A Mendota Heights high school will no longer be named after Henry Sibley, the state of Minnesota's first governor, marking the latest local move away from honoring historical figures with problematic pasts.
After more than a month of consideration, the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan school board on Monday voted unanimously to drop Sibley's name from the school because of his role in the U.S.-Dakota War and the country's largest mass execution. The board will now begin the process of choosing a new name and potentially replacing the school's logo and warriors mascot.
The board received more than 200 e-mails from parents, students and community members concerned about the name. About 90% of those were in favor of a change, board members said.
Board Member Stephanie Levine said she has been uncomfortable with the high school's moniker for years, and she appreciated hearing others' input.
\"I've always believed a name change should not be imposed by the school board but rather a grassroots effort led by our community,\" she said. \"[Sibley's] legacy should be studied and remembered, but not honored by the name of our high school. Our high school deserves a name fitting of its faculty, students and our community — a name that invokes pride and inspires excellence.\"
Sibley, whose Mendota home is a state historical site, was tapped to command troops in the U.S.-Dakota War. He established the military commission that in 1862 sentenced 303 Dakota men to death. Thirty-eight of them were hanged in Mankato.
At a recent board meeting, board members heard presentations about Sibley's life from Minnesota Historical Society staff. The school district's American Indian liaison also collected feedback on the name from American Indian students and parents.
Board Member John Chandler said he heard some concern that the district was trying to \"sneak this through in a pandemic,\" when board meetings are virtual.
But the issue comes at a time when other local school districts, neighborhoods and organizations are facing similar debates about renaming buildings that recognize people with checkered histories.
In Minneapolis, the lake formerly named for John C. Calhoun, who supported slavery and the removal of American Indian people from their lands, is now Bde Maka Ska.
This fall, the Minneapolis school board voted to create an advisory committee to consider the district's school building names. That district previously renamed Ramsey Middle School for Justice Alan Page, and there has been heated debate over the name of Patrick Henry High School.
The Sheridan neighborhood in Minneapolis is also collecting input about potentially changing its title. The area is named for Philip Henry Sheridan, a Union general in the American Civil War, who led the relocation of Native Americans off the Great Plains and encouraged the extermination of buffalo.
In October, the nonprofit organization formerly known as the Sheridan Story changed its name to Every Meal.
Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440