Duluth renames city park in Ojibwe language

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New signage at an entrance to Gichi-Ode' Akiing park was in place on May 31st. (Photos by Dan Kraker/MPR News.)

By Dan Kraker/MPR News

It’s official. After unanimous approval from the Duluth City Council last December, a downtown park has now been renamed in the Ojibwe language.
What was previously Lake Place Park is now Gichi-Ode’ Akiing, which means “a grand heart place.”

The park sits atop a tunnel that carries Interstate 35 on the edge of downtown, stretching to the city’s Lakewalk and to the shore of Lake Superior.

More than 100 people gathered for a naming ceremony May 31, including Duluth city officials and leaders from the nearby Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.
The ceremony displayed none of the controversy that has surrounded similar recent naming efforts in the Twin Cities, at the Fort Snelling historic site and Bde Maka Ska.

“It’s been a long road to get to this moment,” said Babette Sandman, chair of the Duluth Indigenous Commission. She said the seed of the idea was planted more than four years ago when a visitor from Canada asked a question.

Fond du Lac tribal elder Skip Sandman presents an eagle staff to Duluth Mayor Emily Larson.

“Where’s the indigenous people, where’s the Anishinaabe?” Sandman recalled the man asking. “There’s nothing that says you were here before, or you’re even here [now].”
Sandman said from that moment forward she resolved to work to increase the visibility of Native American people in Duluth.

On Friday, the Indigenous Commission presented an eagle staff to Duluth Mayor Emily Larson, who said the park renaming is long overdue.

“As a city we have made historical choices about who belongs here and whose stories get told,” she said.

“We have done things wrong, and we are working to make things right,” Larson continued.

“Today we meet with our great hearts in this place, this corner of the lake, Gichi-Ode Akiing, a beautiful name for a sacred place.”

For several years Duluth and the Fond du Lac band were embroiled in a bitter legal dispute over revenues from the band’s downtown Fond du Luth casino. The two sides reached an agreement in 2016 shortly after Larson took office.

Larson then offered the staff to Vern Northrup, an elder from the Fond du Lac reservation, as a gesture of “reconciliation.” Northrup spoke of his people’s resiliency.

“We are always going to be here, we are never going to go away,” he said. “I’m so proud and humbled to be a part of this historic day.”

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