Henry Sibley High School is asking community members to vote on a new name for the school, as the historical figure of Henry Sibley fails to meet the criteria for a namesake who “demonstrates good character.”
In December of 2020, the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan Area Schools School Board voted to rename the high school after hearing from alumni, parents, the Minnesota Historical Society, and the district’s American Indian liaison officer, who expressed concern with Sibley’s controversial actions toward the Dakota people.
Henry Sibley was a fur trader, an early settler, Minnesota’s first governor, and a military leader. According to the Minnesota Historical Society, Sibley led troops against the Dakota people in Minnesota and sentenced 303 Dakota people to death after their participation in the U.S.-Dakota War. The MHS also says that Sibley had “close ties with the local Dakota community” and played an important role in treaty negotiations between them and the U.S. government.
The school’s guidelines read that namesakes “may reflect … prominent persons of regional, state, or national repute.” When considering a figure for a namesake, the person must “demonstrate good character” and have “made significant contributions or achievements.”
The school board considered whether Sibley’s actions regarding the Dakota people demonstrated good character, determined they did not, and decided unanimously in December to formally begin the process of changing the school’s name.
“Like many of you, I’ve been uncomfortable for years with the name of our high school, but I’ve always believed that a name change should be not imposed by the school board, but rather a grassroots effort led by our community,” school board member Stephanie Levine said during a December board meeting. “I believe we are now at the point where we are ready to embrace a name change.”
The names have been announced, and community members of the West St. Paul-Mendota Heights-Eagan area have been asked to give their feedback on five names the High School Name Committee has proposed.
The names include the following:
- Two Rivers High School
- Hillside High School
- Mni Sota High School
- West Heights High School
- Ohada High School
The school did not provide context into why they chose the new options.
The name committee will use community feedback to bring two to three final contenders to the school board, which could officially change the high school’s name as early as June 21, according to the Pioneer Press.