Lake Place Park sits over Interstate 35 and connects Lake Superior to Duluth’s historic downtown. Soon, community leaders say, it will connect cultures and people, too.
The Duluth City Council voted this month to give the park the Ojibwe language name of Gichi-ode’ Akiing, translated to mean “a grand heart place.”
With events to build awareness and share cultural traditions, the park will serve to educate locals and tourists about indigenous language, history and culture, as well as dispel myths and create a place of healing for everyone, Duluth Indigenous Commission member Carol DeVerney told council members.
“Doing this is just so important to our Indian community and to the children in the Indian community,” she said. “They have to be able to see things in the city where they live that represents them. Someone that they can relate to.”
The name change has been discussed for years. The city’s Indigenous Commission brought up the idea at least five years ago, leaders said, and there was some resistance to changing it at first. But now some other features in Duluth, such as bike trails, are also undergoing name changes.
Ojibwe pipe carrier Gwiiwizens, known as Ricky DeFoe, said the name change is an important step toward reconciliation for what he called the American Holocaust.
“If we’re talking about any kind of reconciliation between nations of people, how do we relate to one another with kindness or respect and things of this nature?” he said to the council. “It only seems proper then, for reconciliation purposes, to rename a park.”
Names have an effect on “the collective consciousness of the American people,” he added later.
Indigenous Commission member Dr. Mary Owen said she believes the name change is another step toward making the community healthier, too.
“One of the biggest factors in our health disparities ... is status,” Owen said. “Without any acknowledgment that we exist, without any acknowledgment that we’re an important contributor ... then that status has no chance of improving.”
Council members voted unanimously for the change.
“Because reconciliation requires action ... I’m really pleased that we as a city seem to have arrived at the point where we take action,” Council Member Joel Sipress said.