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Rochester Native Americans react to new RPS middle school name

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) — It’s been two days since Rochester Public Schools announced that Dakota is the name of the new middle school.

“A word meaning “friend or ally” that comes from the native people who lived in this area since at least the 1600s. A student nominator said, “I believe our new middle school should be named this to represent the first settlers of our area.”

Wrote Rochester Public Schools.

At the beginning of every Rochester Public School Board meeting the chair, Jean Marvin, takes a moment to recognize the tribe:

“The board acknowledges this site and all RPS sites are situated on the ancestral land of the Dakota people and we honor the Dakota nations.”

Said Marvin at the RPS board meeting.

The Dakota nation will now have further honor with the new school.

Rochester Public Schools has been working hard to acknowledge that the Dakota people who once called this place home. And we are on the ancestral land of the Dakota people, try really hard to acknowledge that they were forcibly removed from this area. And I think that’s one of the reasons that they do that at every single school board meeting now,” Regan Kluver, RPS American Indian Liason said.

The district can now further honor the Dakota with the new school.

“It’s the first time that we’re seeing our heritage or anything happen to do with Native identity in the naming of a school which is absolutely huge,” Kluver said. “The original caretakers of where we all live is super important and also represents our school and all of our Native students that we have.”

For decades the American Indian Parent Advisory Committee has been advocating for more representation within the district. One member, Gutherie Caposella, said the impact goes beyond just a name.

“To name a school after a group of people that have been here for tens of thousands of years. But what’s that mean for the culture of the school? And the learning not only the students that attend that school but the community at large? So I think they’re a really big opportunity for the parent committee to provide really crucial input around lots of elements for the school,” he said.

Kluver said RPS has nearly 200 Native American students that are a part of 45 different tribes.

“We’ve got students who are Dakota, Lakota, Ojibwe of Minnesota. But also from Tlingit from Alaska. Seminole from Florida. We’ve got students from out East, West, and also from California and Mexico,” she said.

Kluver also clarified some misconceptions many may feel about the school naming.

“The Washington football team’s previous name is considered a racial term for a lot of Native American People,” she said. “Whereas Dakota meaning friend or ally. That’s a name actually the Dakota people have given themselves and they see themselves as friends or allies. So having Dakota Middle School is going to diminish those stereotypes, and any person can be a friend or ally.”

She said the school is a new beginning of history for the Native students and community.

“To have something like a namesake for a middle school that not only current generations but further generations are really powerful,” she said.

Dakota Middle School will open to students in the 2022-2023 school year. A school mascot has not been named.

KaMaria Braye

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