By Hannah Broadbent
Pocahontas Park in Roseville, Minn. is one more name on the long list of streets, parks and counties that bear titles representing the miseducation of history of Native Americans.
Disney told us Pocahontas was a princess who fell in love with a European man and came to happily adopt Christianity in England. This embellished and false narrative is a commonly held belief by non-natives.
This lack of education contributes to the misuse of Indigenous names like Pocahontas Park or Cherokee Regional Park in St.Paul, as well as the sanctity of settler names like Henry Sibley or Alexander Ramsey. But, one name at a time, these names are disappearing.
The Metropolitan Urban Indian Directors Group (MUID), a collaborative of over 25 organizations, wants to see the name change of Pocahontas Park in Roseville next. In January of 2021, the group wrote a letter to the Mayor and City Council of Roseville in support their plan, the Pocahontas Park Name – Community Engagement and Analysis Plan.
In Nov. 2020, the city laid out the Pocahontas Park Name – Community and Engagement Plan, which states: “Recently, some community members have expressed some concern that the name [Pocahontas Park, 1960’s] may cause harm to Native Populations.”
It cites the concerns that Pocahontas, the person, has no ties to Minnesota or the current Indigenous populations in Minnesota. Also, that the commonly told narrative of her life primarily focuses on her assimilation to European culture, not her tribes account, which includes her exploitation and victimization.
The plan states that it intends to engage with the Native and neighboring communities, and Roseville residents via questions and feedback submissions in February and March. After, the commission will deliberate and make their recommendation to the city council.
Maggie Lorenz, Executive Director of Lower Phalen Creek and Waká Tipi Center (Spirit Lake Dakota/Ojibwe) is a part of MUID and authored the letter to Roseville Council. She said MUID wanted to lend their collective voice in support of the name change to the City of Roseville along with recommendations for engaging the American Indian community locally.
“I was born and raised in the Twin Cities Metro area. As a Dakota woman, I see our influence all around us in the metro area in place names and businesses, etc,” Lorenz said. “What is unfortunate is the lack of education most people have about Indigenous People, our language, and the influence our presence here has had on the places we all know today.”
The MUD letter explains why the name should be changed, and makes additional recommendations on how to engage the Native American community in the process.
“First and foremost, Pocahontas did not come from a tribal nation affiliated with what is now known as the state of Minnesota, but from the Pamunkey Tribe of what is now known as the state of Virginia,” states the MUID letter. “Renaming this park provides an opportunity to truly honor this place with a name that centers around the landscape and/or the original people of the land where this park is situated.”
The letter also mentions the oversexualizing and stereotypical nature used in media in ways that degrade Native women and serve into sex-servitude and ultimately sex trafficking.
Roseville City Council discussed the skewed history of Pocahontas as well as the possibility of changing the name in Sept. 2020. “[In] 1614: Pocahontas learns Christianity marries John Rolfe and adopts the name, Rebecca. Pocahontas and Rolfe have a child, Thomas.” is stated in a Roseville Parks and Recreation Commission Meeting document discussing the ‘traditional’ tale. “[In]1616: Couple heads to England and Pocahontas becomes a symbol of peace between the settlers and Indians.”
This version of events is followed by a section titled the “Powhatan Version”. Which details that her husband, Koccum, was killed and her child taken away from her before she was forced to marry Rolfe. Also, that the English story was published after her death in another country.
“The deep lack of basic education about Minnesota’s Indigenous People is both appalling and a call to action for our State and local governments to invest in American Indian Education for All. That is step one, and we are barely beginning to have that conversation as a state,” Lorenz said.
In the same Parks and Rec Commission meeting, it states: “…If choosing to consider continuing with a name that honors our native population the Commission should speak with appropriate tribal leadership and gain their input. However, it may also be good to consider using the current criteria laid out in our guidelines so as to avoid potentially choosing a name that could become controversial in the future as peoples’ viewpoints on names and events change over time.”
The ‘current criteria’ refers to the city’s policy on naming parks after people. City staff said that includes, “significant contributions”.
Lorenz says the more racist names, from mascots to parks, lakes, or even towns can be changed to something non-offensive, our Native children will get to grow up in a society that is less willing to accept “the way it’s always been”.
“Dismantling racism means taking it all apart, examining each piece, before rebuilding. Name changes are a critical part of that process.”
As of Jan. 27, 2021, the statement remains: “Based on initial conversations, the commission has developed an Engagement and Analysis Plan. The Parks and Recreation Commission is planning to hear more from Native American communities, Native American Residents of Roseville, neighbors of Pocahontas Park and other Roseville residents who are interested in the conversation.”
The Pocahontas Park Name Plan
can be found online at: