FARGO — A commemoration ceremony held Wednesday morning, Sept. 15, marked the reopening of the newly named Dakota High School in Fargo, formerly known as Woodrow Wilson High School.

The Fargo School Board voted unanimously in December to change the name of the school after it was decided Woodrow Wilson was no longer a suitable name based on the former president's views on race.

According to the district, the name change occurred after the district received "vast community input" on the former president’s positions and policies regarding equity and race.

Indian Education Coordinator Melody Staebner speaks during the reopening ceremonies of Dakota High School on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Indian Education Coordinator Melody Staebner speaks during the reopening ceremonies of Dakota High School on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

In addition to a new name, the school, which is located in the Agassiz Building at 1305 Ninth Ave. S., has a new mascot as well, the western meadowlark.

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The mascot name was chosen by school officials through collaboration with the district’s Indian Education Program and regional Native American tribes.

Native American culture was showcased during Wednesday's ceremony with performances by the Buffalo River Singers and Dancers.

Guy Fox and Terry Goodsky dance during reopening ceremonies of Dakota High School on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Guy Fox and Terry Goodsky dance during reopening ceremonies of Dakota High School on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

A number of Native American speakers were also featured, including Tyrel Iron Eyes, who is from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation.

Iron Eyes said the word "Dakota" from the Dakota language is often translated as meaning friend or ally, but he added the actual meaning runs deeper, referring to a sense of kinship and community.

Timothy Gabbard dances for the audience during reopening ceremonies of Dakota High School on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. David Samson / The Forum
Timothy Gabbard dances for the audience during reopening ceremonies of Dakota High School on Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2021. David Samson / The Forum

"I think that's a very fitting name for a high school," Iron Eyes said.

He also noted that the meadowlark was an appropriate mascot for the school, because in Native American tradition it is believed people once communicated with meadowlarks to help spread important news and information.

Iron Eyes said that relates to school and education because education helps young people understand how the world works.

"That's all key to succeeding in this world," he added.

Jim Shaw, a columnist for The Forum who was a strong advocate for changing the school's name, was among those attending Wednesday's ceremony.

Jim Shaw, lower left, who strongly advocated for changing the name of Fargo's Woodrow Wilson High School, listens to a commemorative ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 15, marking the changing of the school's name to Dakota High School. David Samson/The Forum.
Jim Shaw, lower left, who strongly advocated for changing the name of Fargo's Woodrow Wilson High School, listens to a commemorative ceremony on Wednesday, Sept. 15, marking the changing of the school's name to Dakota High School. David Samson/The Forum.

"This is wonderful. This is so exciting and so meaningful," Shaw said.

"They've officially changed the name from a person who was a brutal racist and who cracked down on American civil rights, cracked down on freedom of speech and freedom of the press, to a name that is inclusive, that represents fairness and doesn't have that negative connection," Shaw said, adding: "It just makes the school a more welcoming, friendly place."

The original Woodrow Wilson High School building was built on North University Drive in 1917 and records from that time indicate the high school was originally called Longfellow School.

After the public was given a list of new names to choose from that included Gen. Ulysses Grant, Mark Twain and Ralph Emerson, the Woodrow Wilson name took first place with 87 out of 146 votes.

The school district sold the building on North University Drive in 2012, the same year Woodrow Wilson High School, the district's alternative high school, moved to the Agassiz building.

The future of the Agassiz building, which was built in 1912, is uncertain, as it ranks high on a list of properties the school district is considering selling.