Henry Sibley High School

High School Name Change Survey

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ISD 197 is in the process of changing the name of Henry Sibley High School. The Name Change Committee has received suggestions from the community and narrowed the list of potential names. Now the district is welcoming wider community input through an online survey and two community meetings.

Proposed Names

So far the school district is sharing the proposed names without any context or rationale, which makes it a little harder to understand the reason for the names. That might be a helpful way to see how the names would be received in the wild, but it still makes it harder to make an informed decision. We’ve researched the potential names to offer a little more context.

Here are the proposed name and a basic rationale for each one:

  • Two Rivers High School – For the school’s proximity to the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers, a sacred site to indigenous people and the focal point of early settler activity.
  • Hillside High School – Based on the school’s immediate geography.
  • Mni Sota High School – Minnesota is derived from the Dakota phrase ‘Mni Sota Makoce,’ which has been translated, “Land where the waters reflect the clouds.” ‘Mni Sota’ can also mean “two rivers” or “where two waters come together.”
  • West Heights High School – A combination of West St. Paul and Mendota Heights.
  • Ohoda High School – ‘Ohoda’ is a Dakota word meaning respect.

The school board’s guidelines specifically stipulated that the school not be named after a person, that it cannot return to “Henry Sibley,” and that the new name work with the current “Warriors” mascot.

The survey does include an option to suggest an additional name.

Once the Name Committee receives community feedback, they’ll winnow the list to two to three suggestions and present them to the school board for the final decision.

Potential Conflicts

As the community gives input, it’s helpful to be aware of some of the potential conflicts. Whenever you name something there are bound to be conflicts and complications. It’s rare to pick a name that’s never been used before. But you should at least be aware of that when you make your choice.

Here are a few of the potential conflicts we found with some simple searching:

  • Two Rivers – There are existing Two Rivers High Schools in Arkansas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin. There don’t appear to be any schools named Two Rivers in Minnesota, though there is a Two Rivers Day Care in Avon, Minnesota.
  • Hillside – There are existing Hillside High Schools in California, New Jersey, and North Carolina. In Minnesota, there is a Hillside Elementary School in Cottage Grove and Hillside School in Sauk Rapids. There’s also a Hillside Church in Bloomington, which houses United Christian Academy, and a Hillside Cemetery in Minneapolis. There are also senior living facilities with the ‘Hillside’ name in Austin, Duluth, Long Lake, Monticello, Moose Lake, and St. Peter.
  • Mni Sota – As far as we can tell there aren’t any schools anywhere named Mni Sota, though there is a Mni Sota Fund in Minneapolis. The most common Google result is for the book Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota.
  • West Heights – There is an existing West Heights High School in California. West Heights also appears to be a previous name for the Branch Out program here in West St. Paul or possibly DCALS with ISD 917—it’s frequently listed as West Heights Alternative Learning Center or West Heights Extended Day School, though it’s unclear if it was ever used as an official name. Willwerscheid Funeral Home and Cremation Services’ West St. Paul location is known as West Heights Chapel.
  • Ohoda – The only use of Ohoda we could find is the Ohoda Home in South St. Paul, a specialized living facility.

Community Feedback

The community can give feedback on these names through an online survey, with results accepted through June 11 at 5 p.m., as well as two community meetings:

  • Virtual: June 8 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
  • In Person: June 9 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. (attendees are asked to wear masks and maintain social distancing)

ISD 197 is asking people to register online for the community meetings.

Why the Name Change

The ISD 197 school board voted unanimously to change the name of the high school on December 7, 2021. Board policy says that buildings can only be named for a person if that person meets specific criteria, including demonstrating good character. The board determined that Henry Sibley did not meet that requirement and so moved forward with the name change process.

“We’re not trying to erase history, this is an opportunity to enhance history,” said Board Member Byron Schwab. “If we’re not looking at how we can improve, we’re not going anywhere.”

There are a number of resources available that dive into Henry Sibley’s complicated history:

  • School board presentation from Kevin Maijala and Dr. Kate Beane from the Minnesota Historical Society and the district’s American Indian Liaison Allicia Waukau Butler on the perspectives she gathered from the district’s American Indian families (begins at about 5:46 in the online video).
  • The Minnesota Historical Society recently presented “A Conversation About Renaming and Henry Sibley’s Legacy,” a one-hour Facebook Live webinar that explored Sibley’s life and specifically addressed the high school name change.
  • A 2012 This American Life episode, “Little War on the Prairie,” explores the Dakota War and the lack of knowledge about the events in Minnesota.

June 22, 2021 Update: Official Name Change

The board voted to change the name to Two Rivers High School.

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  1. Thanks for digging a little deeper into the prevalence of these proposed names, Kevin. These are some interesting possibilities! I support the School Board’s decision to make a change.

  2. Why wasn’t a little research done into the name prior to the school’s opening in 1972? Then this could’ve all been avoided.

    1. The name actually goes back to the 1880s when the original Sibley school in West St. Paul was named.

    1. Yes “Heights” can be a pretty difficult word to pronounce. The way it’s properly pronounced, you’d expect it to be spelled “hites”—isn’t English crazy? But it takes some time to learn all the ins and outs and properly pronounce things, and hopefully in the mean time people will give you some grace. It’s respectful to learn how to properly pronounce a name.

  3. You people don’t have enough to do. Henry Sibley was good enough in 1980 and it’s good enough now. History is made to learn from no erase.

    1. No one is erasing history. In fact, it’s precisely because people learned about the history of Henry Sibley that they no longer want their high school named after him. This whole process has been about learning the history. That’s why I linked to multiple stories diving into the history.

  4. Well, since we’re rolling over and playing dead to PC, call it ‘coward capital’
    The mascot can be a chicken.

    This is a disgusting world we live in.

  5. My submitted suggestion of “Mendota Heights Senior High” / “Mendota Heights High School” apparently wasn’t selected as an option. This is shocking to me. The most obvious naming solution that doesn’t confuse anyone, gives a nod to the city the school is located in and is a name that works within the framework of the naming convention rules given by the school board didn’t make the cut above these names? Clearly someone has an agenda for what they want the name to be because if my suggestion was an option up there with the five narrowed down choices we’ve been given I can almost guarantee you it would be the favorite of all those presented.

    I’ve heard rumors someone on the inside is campaigning for “Hillside,” which in my opinion is a terrible idea considering what the author in this post conveyed in addition to the fact that Hill-Murray is in our conference.

    1. “Mendota Heights” probably wasn’t chosen as a name because the high school represents multiple communities and they didn’t want to focus on just one to the exclusion of the others. Plus, did you see how upset some people in West St. Paul were about moving the football stadium from West St. Paul to Mendota Heights? Many saw that as the last vestige of the high school being in West St. Paul, its original location, and they did not want to see it go. I imagine they would see changing the name of the school to Mendota Heights to be a further slap in the face. So I don’t think it’s shocking or the part of some agenda.

      1. Fact is the school itself isn’t located in WSP and therefore “West” shouldn’t need to be included in the name. “West Heights” is trying too hard to be inclusive in my opinion. If you’re going to include a nod to WSP to be inclusive then you must also add Eagan in too since some of the students who attend Henry Sibley reside in the Eagan area. ‘West Eagan Heights High School’ sounds incredibly confusing, so why not just name the school after the city it’s actually located in? That’s the simplest solution and the reasoning is 100% sound.

      2. And 100% rejected by the committee. I’m just telling you the likely reason it was rejected. Take it or leave it.

      3. In one of the final options, they combined two of the three main communities represented in West Heights and excluded Eagan which to me is worse than just going with the city the High School is located in.

  6. Leave it as Sibley. Generations from now someone will find offense to an Indian variation or some other potential name. Don’t name it after a particular other person as that would slight someone else who may be just as deserving.

    1. As noted in the article, the guidelines from the board preclude naming it after a person.

    2. There are many high schools that are named for the hosting city that serve multiple cities. Ex. Mounds View High School. Its location is clear and it serves 9 cities – Shoreview, New Brighton, Vadnais Heights . . .. etc. Just name it Mendota Heights Area School or West St. Paul Area School.

  7. Just as the name Henry Sibley was acceptable back in 1972…. considering the trajectory of the current “woke” culture, the proposed names will surely invoke protest at some point in the future.
    Pick any of the proposed names you like….just be prepared to deal with a different set of arguments based on whatever reason they feel fit.
    You have already made it abundantly clear you are willing to change based on these demands.

  8. Mendota High School. Not named after the town. Native word referring to the convergence of two rivers. Appealing idea of coming together and becoming something bigger than the sums of your parts to head towards a common destination.

  9. We should change the mascot, too. Our first Governor cemented the foundation of this state with delusions of white supremacy and manifest destiny. The Warriors that this school was named for swung from the gallows in Mankato, but we don’t ever acknowledge that uncomfortable fact. There is native blood all over our campus and it needs much more than a name and mascot change, it needs to pay reparations for the Native Americans that Sibley slaughtered, and it needs to apologize that we have spent so long defending and upholding the legacy of our first Governor at the expense of Native American people and students in our community.

  10. I am still wanting IDS 197 High School…. then the middle schools and Elementary schools can follow with locations attached.

  11. Huge waste of taxpayer dollars. Especially considering everything that will need to be updated in the building that was just remodeled. Disappointing that we are prioritizing overly sensitive PC influence over instead spending that money on the students. How about instead investing in programs to help children in low income families flourish in school and post secondary education?

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