People of all ages watched Friday afternoon as Duluth Mayor Emily Larson handed an elegant, handmade eagle staff to a member of the Fond du Lac Band during a ceremony to rename Lake Place Park.
The gesture symbolized the two communities coming together as one during a celebration to rename the waterfront park to "Gichi-Ode' Akiing," which many say improves visibility of the Native American community.
Over 60 people gathered along Lake Superior for a celebration led by members of the Native American community and Duluth City officials to rename the park, which was officially renamed through a Native American prayer. The ceremony also served as a moment of healing for the city's relationship with the Native American community, event attendees and speakers said.
"This is a great day just to be reclaiming part of the Native territory and having it renamed. And ... just recognition of Native people in general," said Shawn Carr, an eagle staff carrier and U.S. Army veteran who participated in the healing ceremony.
The Duluth City Council unanimously voted to rename the park in December, following around five years of work.
Gary Anderson, city council vice president, participated in the ceremony. He said "this vote and this name stands in resilience of our indigenous neighbors."
The gift of the eagle staff, crafted by tribal elder and Vietnam War veteran Skip Sandman, to the Fond du Lac Band symbolized the two communities coming together as one.
Larson said Friday's renaming was a new start for the city and Native American's relationship. "We have done things wrong," she said, adding they will continue working to make things right.
Babette Sandman, chairperson of the Duluth Indigenous Commission, said during the ceremony the renaming brings visibility to the Native American community, who she said feels invisible in the broader Duluth community. "Thank you for bringing us to the table," she said.
Phoebe Davis, a member of the indigenous commission, said she couldn't believe the renaming occurred. "It's someplace you can go ... it gives Native Americans visibility."
Babette Sandman said more work is planned to further raise the profile of the Native American community. She said she's looking forward to holding powwows, coffee hours and get-togethers at the newly named park, as well as the possible creation of a mural to depict the story of Chief Buffalo.
After a welcome and a telling of how the Gichi-Ode' Akiing name came to be, the ceremony started with a tobacco offering and pipe song. The official renaming came when a prayer was said. Following the renaming, Larson presented the eagle staff and the Red Mist Drum Group performed several times.
Brian Scott, a science teacher at Harbor City International School, and fellow math teacher Justin Strom brought 10 students to the ceremony as part of a symposium week, during which they're studying the importance of water.
"We just wanted to be here for the renaming ceremony and [it's] sort of leading into talking about the importance [of] water to the Ojibwe people," Scott said.
Jaron Smallwood, a member of the city's indigenous commission that advocated for the renaming and a participant in the ceremony's drum circle, said he brought part of the name - "Gichi-Ode'" meaning great heart - forward when they were seeking a name. Ricky DeFoe, a spiritual advisor who led much of the ceremony, added "Akiing," meaning "place," to the end Smallwood said.
"This is a major [step] in our battle, you know, trying to be recognized here again ... We wanted our presence to be known here. One of the things I'm going to continue looking forward to is coming down here and telling everybody that I named this park ... It's history being made," he said.