Native American Culture Reflected in Performing Arts Center’s New Name – Brainerd Dispatch

Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts.

Brainerd High School’s new performing arts center will have the Ojibwe word for “great river” or “Mississippi River” in its name, the school board unanimously decided Monday, May 10.

The decision comes after school board members tabled the naming issue in March when they decided they weren’t too keen on the three name choices put forward by a task force.

Among dozens of name suggestions received from community members, the working group came up with the Brainerd Lakes Center for the Arts, or some version of it, with options to remove “lakes” or add “occur.” “.

RELATED: School Board Works to Add Diverse Voices to Performing Arts Centers Naming Issue

Late last month, school board members agreed to allow the district’s equity advisory task force to review the original names submitted by the public after concerns were raised about not have enough diverse voices influencing the naming process. Board members and members of the Equity Advisory Working Group and Initial Naming Working Group came back with their top picks from the names originally submitted, along with a few others.

The result was a desire for the name to include a word from a local Native American tribe. According to data that Community Education Director Cori Reynolds presented to the board on Monday, 21 people involved in the process opted for a Native American name, while 19 still wanted to opt for a version of the original name – Brainerd Lakes Center. for the Arts.

The top vote for Native American words was gichi-ziibi, followed by Nokasippi, which means “tender river.”

“Gichi-ziibi – I think once we learn to say it – sounds pretty good,” said board member Ruth Nelson, adding that the Brainerd Lakes Center for the Arts sounds generic and sounds like so many other names in the region.

“I prefer to have something unique,” ​​she says.

RELATED: Brainerd Lakes Center for the Arts Leads Name Suggestions for New Addition

Janet Kurtz, a retired teacher who taught Spanish at Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College, called earlier this spring for gichi-ziibi or another Ojibway word to be incorporated into the name.

“This is a unique opportunity to reach out, include, educate and recognize the origins of this geographic homeland,” Kurtz wrote in an email to the Dispatch and the school district in March.

In a phone interview after Monday’s meeting, Kurtz said she was excited about the board’s decision and stressed the importance of choosing the right words.

“My whole career is about choosing your words, including people, learning about other cultures,” she said. “And that has the potential – if we take it – to really open up a bit of learning and inclusion. Let’s get to know others.

Board member Kevin Boyles had the same thought process on Monday, saying the fact that people might not know what “gichi-ziibi” means could be a good thing because they will, hopefully inclined to ask about it and can learn something new.

Board member Charles Black Lance said “gichi-ziibi” is probably outside the comfort zone for many, but its relationship to the Mississippi River is important because the river is not just important for the Brainerd region, but also for the rest of the country. .

“It represents us in the north, but it also flows to the rest of the country and even to the Gulf of Mexico, all over the world,” he said, noting that the river remains important to Brainerd students. who leave the region. “So I think it’s a clear and natural fit, although up front here it might be a tongue twister for some.”

Board Chairman Bob Nystrom said he still liked the idea of ​​having “Brainerd Lakes” in the name and suggested something like “The Gichi-ziibi Brainerd Lakes Center for the Arts.”

RELATED: Brainerd School Board Delays Performing Arts Center Nomination, Restarts Process

Nelson was concerned that the name was too long and said that over time people would learn that the center was in Brainerd, even though the town was not in the name.

Board members agreed to “arts center” as the last part of the name, instead of “performing arts center” so as not to limit the types of activities that will take place there. Superintendent Laine Larson said the decision still gives credit to the work done by the original naming committee, as “arts center” was also that group’s preference.

Nelson offered to move forward with the “Gichi-ziibi Center for the Arts”, with Boyles supporting the measure. All council members agreed.

RELATED: Reader Opinion: Find a Unique Name

In a phone interview after the meeting, Nystrom said that while he was originally aboard the “Brainerd Lakes Center for the Arts,” he now fully supports the new name. The community, he said, clearly wanted something that was more related to the culture and history of the area.

“I think this is a big step for our community in recognizing our culture and what was here,” he said. “So often we forget who the people who were here before us really were.”

THERESA BOURKE can be reached at [email protected] or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at


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