Seven years after a group of middle school students called for removing the name of Minnesota's first governor from a south Minneapolis park, the Park Board has come up with an alternative: Chanté T'ínza Wínyan Park.
The new Dakota name for the current Sibley Park was approved by the Park Board's planning committee Wednesday, the latest step in a public process that began in 2021. Hearing feedback in support of a name that recognized the Dakota people, park staff came up with five options in January that were released as part of a survey. The top choices were Oskokpa — meaning "basin," which respondents liked for its shortness — and Chaŋté T'íŋza Wíŋyaŋ — meaning "strong-hearted women," which staff preferred because it is more meaningful.
Sibley park's namesake is Henry Hastings Sibley, a founding Minnesotan statesman who was a fur trader, treaty-maker, the territory's first spokesman in the U.S. House of Representatives, Minnesota's first governor — and a general in the bloody U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
Commissioner Steffanie Musich, whose district includes the park, said the potential name change amounts to a recognition of the damage Henry Sibley caused to the Dakota people, "and the perseverance of the people that survived to continue to exist in this place."
"So I'm pleased that we've come up with a name that really isn't just a thing," she said. "It's telling a story."
The name-change discussion began in 2016, when Sanford Middle School students learned about Sibley, said park spokeswoman Robin Smothers.
"Students said they were uncomfortable with Henry Sibley's name on their jerseys," Smothers said. "Those same students reached out to the Park Board to see if the park's name could be changed."
In a 2019 petition, sixth-graders at Sanford opened their case with a wartime quote from Sibley, referencing the Dakota: "My heart is steeled against them, and if I have the means, and can catch them, I will sweep them with the besom of death."
According to the biography "Henry Hastings Sibley: Divided Heart," by historian Rhoda Gilman, Sibley lived among the Dakota as a trader, developing a working knowledge of the Dakota language and kinship with a Dakota woman, with whom he had a daughter.
Gilman portrayed Sibley as "a righteous man who becomes the tool of injustice," one chapter in a century of western expansion. He belonged to a society of European settlers whose worldview could not comprehend that they had anything to learn from Native Americans, when land was being taken from tribes through either violence or deceit.
Recognizing that treaties struck with Indians across the United States were charades, in 1850 Sibley went to Congress and pleaded for the nation to turn away from his predecessors' policies of genocide and approach tribes "with terms of conciliation and of real friendship, or you must very soon suffer the consequences of a bloody and remorseless Indian war."
Sibley's views did not redirect the nation. The following year, he "more than any other man," Gilman wrote, pressured his Dakota contacts to cede vast territory at a treaty signed at Traverse des Sioux.
Dakota attacks against settlers in 1862 and the war's aftermath of retribution by settler lynch mobs were full of atrocities against noncombatants, women and children. Widespread public sentiment egged on by vitriolic early newspapers demanded the swift executions of some 300 Dakota men. Sibley's reluctance to comply was criticized. Ultimately, the decision was elevated to President Abraham Lincoln, who reduced the death orders to 38 — giving Minnesota the distinction of conducting the largest mass execution in American history.
Sibley predicted that future generations would "do justice to the heroic bands, who have struggled so fiercely to preserve their lands and the graves of their fathers from the grasping hand of the white man," Gilman wrote.
Several steps remain before the park can be renamed.
Park staff will now submit the name to several neighborhood organizations and hold two public hearings before a final board vote. They are aiming to have the name in place when the park opens next spring with new amenities, said Smothers.