White Fragility at the State Legislature: Full Blown Freak Out Over a Sign

The Minnesota Historical Society changed its “Fort Snelling” sign to read “Fort Snelling at Bdote” and some white legislators became unhinged.

“Bdote” is a Dakota word for confluence, or where the waters meet. There’s nothing controversial in the meaning; what’s controversial, apparently, is the use of a Dakota word on the sign.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, who chairs the Senate Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee, slipped a $4 million (18 percent) cut to the Historical Society’s state funding as punishment for the sign, according to a WCCO news account.

Artist rendering of new Fort Snelling sign.

Defending itself and its budget, the Historical Society “said emphatically it is not changing the name of Fort Snelling — only the visitor signs referencing the location,” the story said.

Those critical of the Historical Society’s sign failed to provide anything that sounded like a logical explanation, using evasions, non-sequitors and platitudes. (That usually means the real reasons are too embarrassing to explain.)

The Star Tribune editorial: “To unify, Minnesotans should embrace their entire history” said Kiffmeyer “first refused to say why she proposed the cut.” Later, Kiffmeyer said that “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 among all Minnesotans.” Sen. Scott Newman called the new sign “revisionist history.”

As the editorial said: “That’s not only wrong, it’s arrogant. Minnesota stretches back millennia, and all but the last fraction of that is the history of Indian peoples on this land.”

This controversy comes at the same time as the Court of Appeals decision reversed the name restoration “Bde Maka Ska” and reverted to Lake Calhoun.

There is no need to debate people’s intentions. What matters is the impact of their actions, particularly on Native peoples. These name changes were tiny steps towards healing and even these were threatening to some white people with power and privilege.

It’s a form of white supremacy. We need to speak out against it.

3 thoughts on “White Fragility at the State Legislature: Full Blown Freak Out Over a Sign

  1. Many if not most of the Republican legislators ARE unhinged. No two ways about it.

    It’s worth considering that their judgement is equally unsound about many of the issues coming before them.


  2. […] Recall the political bruhaha earlier this year when the Historical Society changed the sign at the Fort to read “Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote?” Some conservative politicians were angered by the simple addition of “Bdote,” the Dakota word for confluence, and tried to cut the Historical Society’s budget. (See: White Fragility at the State Legislature: Full Blown Freak Out Over a Sign.) […]


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