The name of Fort Snelling is not changing.
Phyllis Goff, a member of the Minnesota Historical Society’s governing board, stood in front of an audience of 15 people at the Redwood Area Community Center in Redwood Falls Oct. 17 and made that message very clear.
While a name change is being proposed for the 23-acre site known as Historic Fort Snelling, the four-acre fort site’s name will remain the same.
The intent of the discussion of making a name change to the larger site is to present a more inclusive story of the area that includes varied cultures, people and historic events, added Kevin Maijala.
Maijala serves as the deputy director of learning initiatives for the state historical society.
The stop in Redwood Falls was one of six listening sessions the task force commissioned to receive public input about a potential name change.
According to Goff, the idea would be to reference the breadth of stories in what is an important place in the history of Minnesota.
What that possible name change would be has not been determined, nor has a decision been made to make any change at all. The current name of the 23-acre site as Historic Fort Snelling was adopted in 1993.
Why is the name change being proposed?
According to Maijala, there is a major revitalization of the site taking place right now that will include a new visitor center, as well as new landscaping for the site as a whole.
While the military elements of the site will continue to be told, the idea would be to add other stories about people and events that took place in the larger site over a longer period of time. That, said Maijala, includes more of the story of the Native Americans who consider the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers, where the historic site is located, an important site.
The story of Dred Scott, a slave who lived with his wife at the fort, is an important part of the history not only of the site but as it relates to the larger story of the United States. Dred Scott sued for his freedom, arguing that living in Minnesota gave him that right. The courts determined that right to freedom did not exist in 1857, and, ultimately, that decision led to the country into civil war.
The fort also served as a language school during World War II for Japanese who then worked as translators for the United States aiding in the victory over Japan.
Those representing the historical society and the task force said there have been some great conversations during the public meetings held throughout the state.
No, not everyone is in favor of any change at all, while others support the telling of a much broader historical perspective at the site.
In addition to hosting the six listening sessions, a Web site was set up to allow the public a chance to share their thoughts on a name change, and more than 5,000 responses have been submitted. The public has a chance to add its input to the list of submissions online at www.mnhs.org/fortsnelling/naming. Those submissions can be made until Nov. 15.
Following the Nov. 15 deadline, members of the task for will compile the information and analyze the data. It will then compile a report that will be sent to the Minnesota legislature during its 2020 legislative session along with a recommendation.
The final decision regarding any name change for Fort Snelling will be made by the state legislature.