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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.
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.
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.
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.
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