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Lake Place Park could get new name

Two women walk past the Arising statue in Lake Place Park. (file / News Tribune)

Lake Place Park soon may get a new name that better reflects downtown Duluth's origins — an area once squarely the domain of the Anishinaabe people.

On Monday, the Duluth City Council is expected to take up a resolution to rename the lakeshore park.

Ray "Skip" Sandman, an elder from the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, welcomes the prospect of renaming the park Gichi-ode' Akiing — pronounced gichee-o-day-ah-king. He said it means "a great heart here."

"I think the naming of this park is long overdue. It just upgrades the city, as a whole," Sandman said.

Unfortunately the city has done relatively little until now, in Sandman's eyes, to acknowledge the community's Anishinaabe heritage.

"I think it's very important for the city of Duluth and indigenous people. We, indigenous people, are a population that's seen, but there's nothing anywhere that says that we had been here before," he said.

A treaty in 1854, authorized Chief Buffalo to select a 1-square-mile territory for his band anywhere amid the lands he ceded. To mark that designated territory, he picked a rock landmark located on what's now the southwest corner of Duluth's First Avenue West and Michigan Street.

Minnesota Point was home to a summer encampment, and Lake Avenue began as part of an trail system that extended all the way to Pike Lake and Grand Lake, where many band members wintered.

Sandman said the renamed park provides some recognition of indigenous people.

"I think this brings a focus to the fact that Duluth is a very diverse city. But it can't be truly diverse when not all the parties are at the table or at least have representation," he said.

Sandman said Duluth has been moving in the right direction toward greater inclusion, with the creation of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial to acknowledge three black men wrongfully accused of rape and lynched by a mob in 1920.

"But there was never anything for Native Americans, the indigenous population, and hopefully that can be expanded into some signage. So it's a very positive step forward," Sandman said.

If Monday's council resolution passes, new "Gich-ode' Akiing" signs could go up at Lake Place Park in the spring of 2019.

Efforts to rename the park have been years in the making. In November of 2015, the Duluth Indigenous Commission formally applied to give Lake Place a new moniker paying tribute to the Native American community that first called it home.

The resolution says: "The Indigenous Commission has recognized the need to increase the visibility of the native people and their significant historical, cultural, spiritual and physical contributions to the city of Duluth."

It also says: "This park will be a place of healing for people and will provide a positive representation of native culture."

Shawn Carr, a Duluth resident and member of the Mendota Mdewakanton Dakota Band, said the renamed park would send a message to all Native Americans.

"It's very meaningful. It goes to show that we're still here, and it helps give people a more accurate understanding of the history of thea area," he said.

"Duluth is a great tourist destination. It's a shipping center. It's a lot of things, but originally it was a place where all the tribes met to trade," Carr said. "The more that we can bring out our history and where our place in history is, the better."

The resolution heading to the council Monday says that with the proposed renaming: "The city of Duluth wishes to honor the indigenous part of its history, create reconciliation and move forward with a grand heart."

Peter Passi

Peter Passi covers Duluth city government and community issues. A graduate of Carleton College, he has worked as a reporter for more than 30 years and joined the Duluth News Tribune newsroom in 2000.

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