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State Senators try to Cut Minnesota Historical Society’s Budget over “Bdote” Sign

Updated: Aug 28, 2019

By Jennifer Brooks @ Star Tribune

Bdote. The Dakota name for this spur of land at the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers. A word that brings 10,000 more years of history and culture to the 200-year story of the historic fort and the people who served, lived and died there.

But to some Minnesota lawmakers, revising a sign to welcome visitors to Historic Fort Snelling at Bdote was tantamount to revising history.

If the Minnesota Historical Society was going to revise history, then the Minnesota Senate was going to revise $4 million right out of its budget.

“The Historical Society,” state Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, announced during Tuesday’s Senate Finance Committee hearing, “has become highly controversial.”

War re-enactors fire blanks from their muskets during a re-enactment of a battle from the War of 1812 on the Fourth of July.

Hollowing out the historians’ $11 million operating budget could cost as many as 80 Minnesotans their jobs, slash school programs and force museums and historical sites to scale back their hours or close entirely.

Kiffmeyer, author of the cuts, refused to explain to her confused colleagues why she wanted to eviscerate the Minnesota Historical Society — archiver of Minnesota stories, keeper of Minnesota treasures, patient guide to Minnesota genealogists and general recipient of bipartisan legislative goodwill.

“What have they done?” asked Sen. Richard Cohen, D-St. Paul, who offered an amendment to restore the funding.

“I read newspapers, I’ve been a member of the Legislature,” he said. If there was a $4 million controversy at the Historical Society, it was news to Cohen.

Eventually, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, stepped in to explain. “The controversy revolves around whether or not the Historical Society is involved in revisionist history,” Newman said. “I do not agree with what the Historical Society is engaged in doing. I believe it to be revisionist history.”

This is the history of Bdote, where rivers merged and cultures met. Tribes and traders gathered here. Zebulon Pike staked out the site of a future fort. Dred Scott dreamed of freedom. Soldiers served their country here, and some of them died in service to their country. The fort’s language school taught Japanese to scores of soldiers during World War II. Sakpedan and Wakan Ozanzan — Little Six and Medicine Bottle — were hanged here. As many as 300 men, women and children died here during the Dakota War, killed by disease and exposure in Fort Snelling’s concentration camps.

Telling everyone’s story doesn’t diminish anyone’s story. This is addition, not subtraction.

“There are a lot of historically silent voices and people who have connections to this historic site that have not been heard,” said Kate Beane, programs and outreach manager for the Minnesota Historical Society’s Native American Initiative. “We’re trying to listen.”

These new voices and stories and park signs aren’t meant to take away from anyone else’s story or history, said Beane, a member of the Flandreau Santee Sioux.

“We’re adding a more complex, nuanced interpretation of who our society has always been,” she said.

As every writer knows, “Revision isn’t necessarily bad,” Beane said. “You’re constantly revising, you’re constantly rewriting. You’re making it better.”

If you grew up playing cowboys and Indians and reading “Little House on the Prairie,” it can be jarring to realize that Fort Snelling was built with slave quarters.

Sometimes when you look back, you see just how many people we left out of the history books.

Minnesotans are tough enough to face facts, Sen. John Marty hopes. “I think that what you’re calling revisionist history might be more accurate history,” Marty, DFL-Roseville, told his colleagues just before Cohen’s attempt to restore the history budget was rejected in a party-line vote. “Some people don’t like that, because they like what we were told in kindergarten or first grade or fifth grade.”

On Thursday, Kiffmeyer engaged in some revising of her own. Now the controversy was about more than a single sign.

Fort Snelling, she said, should be an unbroken celebration of Minnesota’s military history. “It is the history of Minnesota. It is military appreciation,” Kiffmeyer said. “Minnesota’s history all the way back to the Civil War and the very first regiments … is deep and strong and long.”

There is no space at Fort Snelling to appreciate anyone or anything but Fort Snelling, as far as Kiffmeyer is concerned.

“Fort Snelling is about military history and we should be very careful to make sure that we keep that,” she said. “It’s the only real military history in a very unifying way amongst all Minnesotans.”

The Legislature is heading into the final sweaty weeks of the session. There are no cuts to the Minnesota Historical Society’s budget in the House’s 2020 state government finance budget bill.

So the situation will probably be resolved in some backroom in the middle of the night, when everyone realizes that the Historical Society didn’t actually rename Fort Snelling — only the Legislature can do that — and maybe one historically accurate word on a sign isn’t worth ruining thousands of school field trips.

Then we’ll see how many of our lawmakers agree with Mary Kiffmeyer’s vision of a Fort Snelling that unifies some Minnesotans by excluding the rest.

This Article was Originally published by the Star Tribune.. Read Full Article



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