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Controversy arises over new signs at Fort Snelling

May 21, 2019 12:02 PM

Fort Snelling played a key role in Minnesota history, and today it remains one of the state's most prominent historical landmarks.

But a controversy has arisen over signs the Minnesota Historical Society has placed at the fort, which is located in an area known as Bdote by the Dakota people.

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The old signs simply read "Fort Snelling Historic Site," but newer signs now read "Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote," - a Dakota word meaning where two waters meet. In this case, the Minnesota and Mississippi Rivers.

"Without any public input that I am aware of, the Historical Society has changed the name of historic Fort Snelling, which is a military installation, to historic Fort Snelling at Bdote," Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS.

He said he's also heard from veterans who are upset by the signs, and consider it "revisionist" history.

"I think it's a rewriting of our history and I'm not in favor of it," he said.

David Kelliher of the MHS said Fort Snelling has not been renamed. Rather, the MHS has simply expanded the stories they are telling about what has happened there over 200 years.

"Lots of history has happened there over many generations," Kelliher said. "We want to tell all of those stories, and by telling those stories we absolutely are not diminishing military history or the contributions of veterans."


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The debate comes as a revitalization project at the fort is scheduled to get underway. During the 2018 legislative session, MHS received $15 of the $30 million it requested for the project. And the MHS website says work is scheduled to get underway this fall.

A total of $19.5 million has been appropriated by the state for the project overall, and the MHS said $15 million has been pledged in private dollars.

"I want the Historical Society to come to the table and talk to us," Newman said. "And be willing to listen to what our concerns are and act on those concerns. And to date, in my estimation, they have not."

Newman supports a bill that would cut the historical society's budget by 18 percent, or $4 million per year over the next two years.

Kelliher said that could result in 50-to-80 layoffs and program cuts.

But DFL Senator John Marty and others take issue with the use of the term "revisionist history." And they say the entire MHS should not be punished over signs at one location.

"I guess I have a real problem when you're calling it revisionist history," said Marty, DFL-Roseville. "That it might not just be more accurate history. But aside from that, I think the concept of punishing the entire agency because you have a disagreement with them is a problem."

The DFL-controlled House and Gov. Tim Walz have not proposed any cuts to MHS funding.

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