Republicans seek to gut the Minnesota Historical Society for using an Indian name

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer's penalty for using a Lakota word on a Historical Society banner: Exactly $4 million.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer's penalty for using a Lakota word on a Historical Society banner: Exactly $4 million. Minnesota Historical Society

The Minnesota Legislature is known to harbor minds badly in need of rust-proofing. Today's featured specimen: Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake).

She doesn't believe in history. Or at least the history of Minnesota that occurred before Europeans showed up, took everybody's stuff, and sometimes slaughtered the previous residents.

So she's proposed gutting state funding for the Minnesota Historical Society, hacking $4 million from its $11 million budget. The society, you see, has committed a grave offense.

It posted a banner at its Fort Snelling visitor center that included the word “Bdote.” As in: “Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote.” This was the Dakota name for the site on the bluffs above the Mighty Mississippi, which, as you may have guessed, was long in existence before the Euros showed up.

To some, it would seem only natural that historians present, well, history. Kiffmeyer objects. She initially refused to say exactly why she wanted to gut the society, as the Star Tribune's Jennifer Brooks notes. She would only tell colleagues that it had become “highly controversial.” So she wants it to pay with mass layoffs, museum closures, and reduced educational fare for kids.

That left Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson) to articulate the GOP position: “The controversy revolves around whether or not the Historical Society is involved in revisionist history. I do not agree with what the Historical Society is engaged in doing. I believe it to be revisionist history.”

Translation: 'Tis a sin to revise a limited view of history with a fuller, more accurate one.

Newman and Kiffmeyer aren't the first to resist such higher thought. Change is scary to the human species, especially to those of us descended from the Euro hordes. History was always simply distilled to our history. We never had to share the limelight, or entertain suggestions that we may not have been as valiant or visionary as originally written.

This has been good for no one. Especially us. It's made us arrogant and delusional, prone to committing the same trespasses generation after generation because we always got to paper over the last.

The same outcry occurred when Minneapolis changed the name of Lake Calhoun. History was being “erased,” went the howls. Political correctness and social justice had run amok! We were in Full Kiffmeyer Mode during that episode too, unable to see the naked obviousness of the move: That it's probably not a good idea to honor a guy who was really into slavery.

This is not Kiffmeyer's first foray into combustible thought. She's currently blocking $6.5 million in federal election security funds from coming to Minnesota. The money's to be spent on keeping hackers at bay during the 2020 elections. But if she's worried sick about Indian names, she is not so concerned about Ruskie sabotage.

“People are being hacked all the time,” she told the Star Tribune. “You’re being hacked all the time. I am. This is no big thing.” (During her husband Ralph's single term in the Minnesota House, he actually tried to outlaw dildos. If nothing else, the Kiffmeyer household is an incubator for unique ideas.)

The Strib's Brooks did acquire a fuller explanation for Mary Kiffmeyer's attack on the Historical Society: “Fort Snelling is about military history and we should be very careful to make sure that we keep that,” she said. “It’s the only real military history in a very unifying way amongst all Minnesotans.”

Of course, one word on one banner changes no military history. It merely asks you to consider two things at once. But for Kiffmeyer, there's great danger in entertaining parallel thoughts. And the penalty for that is exactly $4 million.