“A big step”: the Amerindian community reacts to the selection of “Dakota” for the new name of the college


The word Dakota means “friend” or “ally”. The Rochester School Board selected him to be on a shortlist of five student names out of hundreds. The public then chose him as their winning name through a voting process.

To some students who walk through the doors of Dakota Middle School, the name may seem like a nod to history. For a handful of them, however, the name can mean a bit more – a recognition not only of the past, but also of the need for Native American students to do better.

“It’s a good thing,” said Guthrie Capossela, a member of the school district’s Native American Parents Advisory Committee. “I think what happens next is really the most important part and the learning that can come from it.”

RELATED: Rochester School Board Announces ‘Dakota’ as Name of New College

Capossela went on to talk about the disparities for Indian students and the need to improve the situation.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, there were 135 Native American students in public schools in Rochester as of 2020. The Native American Parent Advisory Committee says there are more than 175.

The four-year graduation rate for Native American students attending RPS in 2020 was 54.5%; the statewide rate was only slightly better at 58.4%.

“If you put the name ‘Dakota’ on the side of the wall, but don’t change anything else about the way we teach our kids there, have we really done anything to represent the native people? Said Capossela. “Or did we just take a name and put it on a building, then do another white institutional building?”

Those who have been in the Rochester School District long enough have seen a change in the way Native American issues are handled. Valerie Guimaraes got involved in the system when she noticed that her own children were bringing back stories from school that she did not agree with.

“A humanities teacher told her that residential schools were created for Native Americans to help us learn to get along better with each other,” Guimaraes said of her daughter. “And that was the most upsetting for me.”

Guimaraes began going to classrooms herself, offering to help teach students about Indian issues and culture. Today, she says the district’s relationship to these issues has changed 180 degrees from what it was 15 years ago.

Choosing an Aboriginal name for the new middle school, she says, is cause for celebration.

“With the school name ‘Dakota’, it gives me new hope: hope for this community and hope for the future,” Guimaraes said. “I think the time is right for that, so I’m very, very, very happy.”

Like Guimaraes, Tucker Quetone has been involved with Rochester Public Schools for many years. He began working for the district in the early 1990s and his six children attended Rochester Public Schools.

He said the choice of Dakota as the name of the college was a “big step.” He cited several other milestones that he considers advanced: how the district changed the name of the holiday from “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples Day” and how the school board began to read a statement during its meetings. meetings, recognizing that RPS sites are located in the ancestral land of the Dakota.

Like Capossela, however, Quetone said that small acts cannot accomplish much on their own.

“It’s a bit symbolic where they honor Indigenous people with words, but not much beyond that,” Quetone said. “So, as a committee, we are really interested in making things happen so that Aboriginal people – Aboriginal culture – are seen more in the everyday part of the school. ”

The committee, he said, would like more Native American teachers in the school system, or even simpler things like having Indian artwork displayed on the walls.

“I would love to see when you walk into the school building that the atmosphere and surroundings reflect the Dakota name,” Quetone said. “If this building existed, I would like my children to attend. “

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