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The White Minnesota Freak Out

A controversy has arisen over signs the Minnesota Historical Society has placed at Fort Snelling, which is located in an area known as Bdote by the Dakota People in St. Paul Thursday, April 25, 2019. The old signs simply read “Fort Snelling Historic Site,” but newer signs now read “Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote,” – a Dakota work meaning where two waters meet. In this case, the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers. (Jean Pieri / Pioneer Press)

“Minnesota Nice” also means Minnesota White and when that whiteness gets challenged, the nice goes away. Right now, right-wing whites in Minnesota are freaking out over new interpretations of the past. First, we have Fort Snelling. This is a fascinating place. Locate where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers meet, it was not only the site of the fort–significant enough because it is where Dred Scott lived and was the basis of his suit for freedom–but also the site of the creation story for the Dakota people. The Minnesota Historical Society has decided to recognize this, simply by adding the Dakota name for the place on the sign. How do you think Minnesota Republicans have responded to this?

Minnesota senators on Thursday passed a GOP-sponsored measure that would cut the Minnesota Historical Society’s budget for using a Dakota people’s name to identify the site of Historic Fort Snelling.

The fort is located at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers; the Dakota people called the site “Bdote.” To identify the location, the Historical Society recently added the words “at Bdote” to temporary signs welcoming visitors to the fort.

State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, called the addition “revisionist history” and moved legislation to cut the society’s state funding.

Kiffmeyer is chair of the Senate committee that oversees state agency budgets, and she tucked a provision into a larger budget bill that would reduce the Historical Society’s appropriation by $4 million a year.

That represents an 18-percent decrease that could mean 53 to 80 layoffs, cutting hours at historic sites and “severe reductions” in the organization’s educational and other programs, said Historical Society Director and CEO Kent Whitworth.

The bill passed the Republican-led Senate — on a 37-28 vote — with some Democratic support.

Before the vote, Kiffmeyer said at a news conference that adding “Bdote” to the sign “is greatly objected to by many people, and the historical society has been quite resistant to listen and to make changes. We want them to be accountable and to be more transparent, and this is one way of getting their attention, that this is serious, and they need to pay attention.”

Asked what’s wrong with calling the location “Bdote,” Kiffmeyer replied, “Yes, we can add some of those additional pieces of information, but Fort Snelling is about military history, and we should be very careful to make sure that we keep that. It’s the only real military history in a very unifying way amongst all Minnesotans. It is our premiere entity for military history.”

Ah yes, the important thing is that Minnesota retains that site for nothing else than serving the veterans fetish of conservatives, as if one can’t talk about veterans in a balanced way that explores multiple perspectives–oh wait, yes, that’s exactly what conservatives hate. Now, Kiffmeyer is a very special woman. Here’s her career before the state Senate:

Kiffmeyer, who lost her re-election bid in 2006, was featured Friday
in an ad about heath care during Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s weekly radio show
on WCCO-AM. In the ad, Kiffmeyer said liberals support “socialistic”
universal health care, which she likened to a welfare program.
There has been no recent proposal to have the state take over all
health care coverage. The Minnesota Majority Web site does feature a
health care proposal that state House Republicans, who are in the
minority, recently announced. The group also plans to co-host a series
of online discussions about health care.
Minnesota Majority is a political nonprofit organization that started
this summer to “restore our Founding Fathers’ values to our state
public policy. We also hope to establish a sustainable movement that
will spawn the next generation of traditional values leaders in
Minnesota,” according to its Web site.
Kiffmeyer, who is considering running for a state House seat next
year, said she decided to join the Minnesota Majority because it is
nonpartisan and focuses on issues she cares about.
Minnesota Majority’s Web site features an issue paper on health care,
which backs consumer-driven health care and claims that racial
diversity and single-parent households negatively affect health in the
United States.
“Black women, for a variety of reasons, are more prone to underweight
babies than are Caucasian and Asian women. It is not surprising that
Sweden has a lower infant mortality rate, or that Japan has a longer
life expectancy than the United States does. They are nearly racially
pure; we are not,” says the Web page, written by public speaker and
former radio talk show host David Racer.

Someone obsessed with ideas of racial purity is perfect for the Republican Party in 2019! No wonder she is leading the charge to Make Minnesota History White Again. And while there is reason to believe that budget cut will not pass the Democratic-dominated House or the governor, it could still lead to some kind of “compromise” budget cut.

And it’s not just the Historical Society. See, for some reason, Minnesota had a lake named after John C. Calhoun. Thinking that was really screwed up, the state changed the name a few years ago to its Dakota name. Of course, Minnesota whites sued and at least so far have won:

Lake Calhoun is back on the map.

The state Court of Appeals ruled Monday that the former Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Tom Landwehr lacked authority to change the name of the lake because the name had existed for more than 40 years.

In January 2018, Landwehr ordered the lake’s name revert to its original Dakota name: Bde Maka Ska. The federal government approved it and signs around the lake were changed.

But the unanimous opinion by a three-judge panel said the name will go back to Calhoun because Landwehr’s action was illegal and only the Legislature holds the authority to change the name after it existed for 40 years.

The dispute over the lake’s name paralleled a national movement to remove the names of segregation and slavery supporters from monuments. Lake Calhoun was named in honor of John C. Calhoun, the seventh vice president of the United States from 1825 to 1832 and a senator from South Carolina. He was a staunch defender of slavery.

Erick Kaardal, the lawyer for the “Save Lake Calhoun,” the group that challenged the name, called the decision “A win for holding the system accountable,”

Well, with the Queen of Racial Purity in the state Senate, I’m sure this will be changed back to its Dakota name real soon!!! And with Donald Trump obsessing about the greatness of Robert E. Lee, why not mandate all northern states to have a lake named after Calhoun?

At least one Minnesota-based historian is trying to talk sense to these people. Michael Lansing:

“However accurately we may determine the ‘facts’ of history, the facts themselves and our interpretations of them, and our interpretation of our own interpretations, will be seen in a different perspective or a less vivid light as mankind moves into the unknown future.”  

Are these the words of a postmodernist? A cultural Marxist? A historian with a sharply defined political agenda?  

No.  No. And — most importantly — no. These are the words of a dead white man. Carl Becker, to be specific. Becker (1873-1945), long-time historian at Cornell University, shared this basic vision of history and how it works during his presidential address at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting in Minneapolis in 1931.

That’s right. 1931.

Becker’s understanding of history as a constantly changing set of interpretations rather than unchanging facts came to mind last week when the politicization of Minnesota history hit new heights. The Board of Regents at the University of Minnesota rejected its own faculty’s evidence-based interpretation of racist actions by university leadership in the past. Meanwhile, the GOP-controlled state Senate — seemingly troubled by the inclusion of the Dakota word Bdote in signage at Fort Snelling State Historic Site — voted to punish the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) by slashing its proposed annual budget by 20 percent.  

Detractors suggested that both the university’s faculty and MNHS were engaging in “revisionist” history. This phrase is a contradiction in terms that reveals how little the detractors know about the actual practice of history. Indeed, those who wrote a report on past injustices at the University of Minnesota as well as the historians at MNHS did not unduly politicize the state’s history. Those accusing them of revising the past did.

Every historian knows that history changes over time. That is one of the fundamental tenets of the discipline. Indeed, the past is always changing. New evidence, new questions, and new historians craft new interpretations. They add up to an always evolving understanding of history. That’s what makes the field so exciting. It’s a live project.

Well, we all know that Carl Becker was a cultural Marxist or whatever….

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