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After Republicans freak, Historical Society asks public about name change for Fort Snelling

The Minnesota Historical Society started calling the area "Fort Snelling at Bdote" a little over two years ago. Then Senate Republicans threatened to cut its funding.

The Minnesota Historical Society started calling the area "Fort Snelling at Bdote" a little over two years ago. Then Senate Republicans threatened to cut its funding. David Joles, Star Tribune

About two and a half years ago, the Minnesota Historical Society added some phrasing to the signs around Fort Snelling. They now say “Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote,” which is the Dakota name for where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers meet.

Kevin Maijala, who helps direct learning initiatives with the Historical Society, says it was all part of an attempt to present a more complete picture of the area’s past. Fort Snelling’s focus as a historical park used to be pretty narrow. It was all about the military in that relatively short blip of time between the 1820s, when the fort was built, and the 1830s.

Over the past 15 years, the society has been trying to include the legacies of others who have contributed to the significance of the site—like the enslaved, soldiers from both World Wars, immigrants, and indigenous people. There are some “fabulous stories” out there, Maijala says, and they’re worth telling.

Not everyone agrees. Last session, some Minnesota Senate Republicans, including Scott Newman of Hutchinson, called the new signage “revisionist history” and threatened to slash the society’s funding by 18 percent.

“I think it’s a rewriting of our history and I’m not in favor of it,” he told KSTP. He also accused the society of going forward with new signs without any public input that he was “aware of.”

Society Director Kent Whitworth doesn’t see adding “At Bdote” to the sign as a revision. The Dakotas' relationship with the site is part of its history too. Acknowledging their presence there doesn’t make the fort disappear. “This is about addition,” he told Kare 11, “Not subtraction.”

But a lot of people following the issue on social media don’t seem to agree.

“Quit changing everything,” one Twitter user commented on a WCCO poll about the new name. “Leave stuff alone.”

Others pointed out that, technically speaking, “Bdote” is the place’s old name. “Fort St. Anthony” came along later, followed by “Fort Snelling.”

Ultimately, Maijala says, the Legislature does control the nomenclature of the historic site system. But to get public input, the society has embarked on community meetings to see what exactly the public thinks of a new name for the site. The fort itself, he says, will always remain Fort Snelling. But the surrounding area has had many names. The society wants to know what works best for Minnesotans.

The first meeting took place in Rochester. Maijala says about 15 people came, and they had a “thoughtful conversation.” According to thePost Bulletin, they included a veteran who wanted to make sure veterans’ history remained in the name. A Dakota woman named Valerie Guimaraes, whose ancestors were once imprisoned at the fort during its days as an internment camp, reminded everyone that Native American veterans have served at the fort, too.

“The current name reflects one story,” she said.

The other meetings will be in Duluth, Brooklyn Park, St. Cloud, St. Paul, and Redwood Falls. If you can’t make it to any of those, you can fill out the society’s online survey here.

If all goes well, we could have a proposed new name to present to the Legislature this session or the next.