Lake Calhoun Name Officially Changed to Bde Maka Ska

Greyson Mize, page editor

In recent history, many cities and states have decided to take down memorials to individuals who advocated for slavery. The formerly titled Lake Calhoun in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis is another example of this shift, as the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources approved the vote to rename the lake Bde Maka Ska (beh-DAY mah-KAH skah) on Thursday, January 18.

The lake was named by surveyors in 1839 to honor Vice President John C. Calhoun for the construction of Fort Snelling. However, controversy over the name arose in Minneapolis in 2015 when local citizens started to call attention to Calhoun’s problematic historical record, which included fierce opposition to the end of slavery, support of white supremacy, and his authorship of the Indian Removal Act, the legislation that directly enabled the Trail of Tears.

In response to this, in 2015 the Minneapolis Park Board added original Dakota name of the lake, Bde Maka Ska, as an alternate name, and later voted unanimously to replace Calhoun’s title completely. It wasn’t until November 21, 2017 that the Hennepin County Administration Committee voted 4-3 in favor of the name change, leaving the decision up to the Minnesota DNR, who ultimately approved it.

Bde Maka Ska, meaning “White Earth,” was the name given to the lake by the Dakota people in Minnesota. “Restoring the name Bde Maka Ska will start conversations and educational experiences about our history and the first indigenous people of Minnesota,” legislators said in a letter issued January 10, 2017. “This action will grow a deeper appreciation for the vibrant Native American Indian communities that still exist in Minneapolis and throughout the state.”

However, while there was support for the shift, not all Minnesotans are for the change. Save Lake Calhoun, a group of Minneapolis residents, was formed to oppose the action. “Lake Calhoun is the first victim of what will be a tsunami of extremist name-change advocacy,” an advertisement by the group in an issue of the Star Tribune stated. Erick Kaardal, the attorney for Save Lake Calhoun (who is also the lawyer representing the Edina High School Young Conservatives Club in their lawsuit against the school district), filed legal action in early January. He stated that the Minneapolis Park Board did not have the authority to recommend a name change, and because Bde Maka Ska was already included on park signs, there was no “factual basis” to changing it.

Despite the group’s complaint, the Minnesota DNR went ahead with their decision, blocking any potential appeal for Calhoun’s restoration. “The Save Lake Calhoun group is gravely disappointed with the DNR’s decision to rename Lake Calhoun,” Kaardal said.