MANKATO — Protesters called for the renaming of Sibley Park during Kiwanis Holiday Lights Wednesday, the anniversary of the hangings of 38 Dakota men in Mankato.

The park is named after early Minnesota leader Henry Sibley, who oversaw the internment, trials and executions of the Native American men during the Dakota War of 1862. President Abraham Lincoln signed off on the order.

The demonstrators Wednesday evening blocked traffic in the park, installed a tripod with a noose around a dummy symbolizing Lincoln, and unfurled a banner reading “Hangman’s Park” over the railroad trestle at the entrance.

Sibley Protest 2

A police officer stands over the remnants of an effigy after protesters hanged a figure representing President Abraham Lincoln at the Kiwanis Holiday Lights in Sibley Park Wednesday. Lincoln signed off on the execution of 38 Dakota men in Mankato in 1862, which the park's namesake, Henry Sibley, oversaw. The demonstrators called for the park's renaming. Photo by Jackson Forderer

An indigenous-led protest group known as “Anti-colonial Land Defense” took credit for the display on its Facebook page. The group referred The Free Press to its Facebook postings when messaged for further comment.

“We should not celebrate nor name parks after people who commit genocidal hate crimes against indigenous people (whose) ancestral homelands we are on,” the group wrote in one comment.

Activists in recent years have increasingly focused on removing or renaming landmarks named after controversial historical figures.

Minneapolis’ Lake Calhoun, named after 1800s politician and stringent defender of slavery John C. Calhoun, became Bde Maka Ska in 2018 to reflect the original Dakota name for the body of water meaning “Lake White Earth.”

Mahkato Wacipi Chair Dave Brave Heart said he’d heard some discussions among powwow committee members about trying to change Sibley Park’s name over the years, although no formal efforts arose from them. While he hadn’t heard about the protest or the group behind it until told about them Friday, he said he would support Sibley Park's renaming.

“There’s always this undercurrent conversation,” he said of the name. “It would be nice if they would look at that and change the name because we all know what Sibley represented back in the day.”

Brave Heart’s father led efforts for years to rename South Dakota’s highest natural point, formerly Harney Peak, to Black Elk Peak. General William S. Harney received the honor in 1855 after leading forces against Brule Lakota in modern-day Nebraska, a campaign marked by the killing of women and children along with warriors.

Wednesday’s protest broke up soon after police arrived and no one was arrested or cited. The handful of protesters were blocking traffic and initially ignored requests to move, said Mankato Department of Public Safety Cmdr. Dan Schisel.

The first responding officers advised the group they could peacefully protest but they could not impede traffic, the commander said. The protesters scattered when police commanders arrived and none of them were identified. Officers then took down the items the protesters left behind, Schisel said.

Kiwanis Holiday Lights President Scott Wojcik said the traffic blockage lasted about 25 to 30 minutes. Visitors were curious about what was going on, he said, but it soon became clear the protest wasn’t directed at the light display itself but rather the setting. 

“We know as much as anyone else does,” he said. " … From my understanding, when I arrived it had nothing to do with the event but with the naming of the park.”

Reporter Kristine Goodrich contributed to this story.

Follow Brian Arola @BrianArolaMFP.

React to this story:


Trending Video