Duluth has always been Minnesota’s coolest city. It’s more beautiful and laid back than its big brothers, Minneapolis and St. Paul. It also enjoys 67 percent less tight-assery, according to the American Medical Association.
Proof of the latter came last week, when the Duluth’s Lake Place Park was renamed Gichi-Ode' Akiing.
It was a solid move for many reasons. First, the generic Lake Place Park merely screamed to the world, “We suck at thinking up good names for parks.” Second, Gichi-Ode' Akiing -- which translates to a more soulful "a grand heart place" -- pays tribute to the city’s foregone inhabitants, the Ojibwe, who laid claim to the land in an 1854 treaty, only to have it stolen by the European hordes.
The park holds a central slot in downtown Duluth, resting above the Lakewalk and the shores of Lake Superior. Yet with the name change came a more striking development: Barely anyone freaked out.
You may recall the opposite was true when Minneapolis’ Lake Calhoun was renamed Bde Maka Ska. Outrage scorched the land. Neighbors objected with petitions, claims and counter-claims of racism soared, a venture capitalist sued the “bullying elite,” and comment sections were loaded with teeth-gnashing so severe the dental industry saw a 26 percent hike in pre-tax income.
Two years later, the matter of Bde Maka Ska remains in court, with Minneapolis refusing to recognize a judge's decision that we must return to honoring a slaveholder.
Duluth, by contrast, experienced no similar triggering. Yes, there was a modest uprising of gooberism. Because there always will be uprisings of gooberism.
“Wtf, are you serious?” wrote Dave Harvey on WDIO-TV's Facebook page. “Why don't you just change the name of Lake Superior while you're at it? WTF is wrong with this goddamn country?”
The merely caustic also weighed in. “Call it S.E. Wind Sewage Smell Park,” wrote Casey Pittman.
But most simply wanted to discuss how worthless the city council is, a subject enjoyed by Americans since the first municipal consultant's report went unread and forgotten in a drawer in 1836.
Their laments centered on how the city had more important things to do. Still, there was a refreshing minimalism to the resistance to change, the mental gymnastics involved in opposing a Native honor, and reflexive wails of racism that usually orbit it all.
Some even questioned whether the Dakota were more worthy, since they held Duluth before the Ojibwe drove them off, using methods that would make the Europeans seem delicate.
If there was one takeaway, it's that Duluth is more enlightened than we are. And we'd be wise to sit at the hand of this master and drink in its ways.