Bde Maka Ska advanced by County Board

The Hennepin County Board on Nov. 28 advanced a proposal to change the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska.

The board voted 4–3 to recommend that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources take the necessary steps to change the lake’s name. Bde Maka Ska means “White Earth Lake” in the Dakota language.

The vote was the latest in a multi-step, years-long effort to rename the lake. Supporters of a change have long noted that the lake’s namesake, South Carolina politician John C. Calhoun, was a supporter of slavery and the Indian Removal Act. They say the change would be welcoming and inclusive and honor the area’s Native American history.

“It’s not going to change the world, but I think it will be a positive contribution to our county and to the whole state of Minnesota to recognize the history of the Dakota people here in Hennepin County,” Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said before the vote.

Opponents argued there were ways to honor that history other than changing a name that’s become iconic in Minneapolis. Other early American politicians held similar views to Calhoun, some noted, which could prompt even more name changes.

“You can rename the lake, but the name Calhoun is not going to be eradicated,” Minneapolis resident Arlene Fried said at a public hearing in October.

The latest push to change the name came through the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, which recommended a name change as part of its 25-year master plan for Lake Calhoun and Lake Harriet. In its petition, the Park Board said many people have requested that the name Bde Maka Ska be restored, noting that it disappeared in 1820 when surveyors named the water body after Calhoun.

“Restoring the name Bde Maka Ska to Lake Calhoun … sends a powerful message to disenfranchised communities among our citizenry that this lake and public parkland are not for just a select group, but for all people,” the petition said.

The County Board received three petitions to rename the lake, including the one to rename it Bde Maka Ska. Another asked for a change to Lake Maka Ska, and a third asked for a change to Lake Wellstone.

Most speakers at the public hearing in October supported changing the lake’s name. They said a change would be an appropriate way to honor the untaught Dakota history of the area and could inspire people to learn more.

Several county commissioners echoed those points at a board committee meeting on Nov. 21. Commissioner Linda Higgins added that people would learn how to pronounce the name over time as they have other Native American place names in Minnesota, such as Wayzata.

Commissioner Jan Callison said many of those Native American names have been Anglicized so as not to be confuse English speakers. She said her fear is that people would use the nickname “Lake Bde” for the lake because they wouldn’t be comfortable pronouncing Bde Maka Ska.

Callison proposed an amendment that both Bde Maka Ska and Lake Calhoun be used, in an attempt to respond to arguments on both sides of the issue.

Commissioner Mike Opat voiced support for Callison’s amendment, calling it a “more reasonable outcome that advances all agendas.” He said he’s never received more email or phone traffic on an issue, adding that comments had been decidedly against a change. Commissioner Marion Greene said she appreciated the idea of finding middle ground but that one name would come in second in such an arrangement. McLaughlin agreed.

Callison’s amendment failed on a 4–3 vote, with Greene, McLaughlin, Higgins and Commissioner Debbie Goettel voting against it.

Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who supported the amendment, said he wouldn’t support the change because he doesn’t believe the “national frenzy” to rename buildings accomplishes anything other than to widen divisions.

He said changing the name wouldn’t change history, adding that many other early American figures, such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, held views found repugnant today.

“Once we start this, it will not end, and I’m absolutely convinced of that,” he said.

Greene said it’s inconvenient to acknowledge that Calhoun was an advocate for slavery and white supremacy. But she said it’s important to face that truth and learn something from it.

She noted the extensive process the Park Board went through in recommending a name change, adding that many people at a forum she hosted on Nov. 20 supported the change.

The motion to recommend a name change passed on Nov. 21, with Greene, McLaughlin, Higgins and Goettel in support. The same four commissioners voted to recommend the change a week later.

At the Nov. 21 meeting, Assistant State Climatologist Peter Boulay said the state DNR commissioner would decide whether or not to accept the name and send it back to the county to be recorded. The name would officially be the name in Minnesota once it’s recorded.

From there, it would be forwarded to the U.S. Geographic Board on Names for consideration.

The Hennepin County Board on Nov. 21 voted to recommend changing the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, which means “Lake White Earth” in Dakota.

The commissioners approved the recommendation on a 4-3 vote. It means the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources commissioner, Tom Landwehr, will now decide whether or not to move the name change forward to the U.S. Geographic Board on Names for final approval.

The County Board’s vote was a milestone in what’s been a controversial process. Supporters have argued the change would be a way to honor and teach about the area’s Dakota history, which they say has been forgotten over the years. Opponents argue that there are ways of recognizing the dual history without changing the name.

At the Nov. 21 County Board meeting, Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said he thought renaming the lake reflected “our values, our history and our aspirations.”

Place names can trigger discussions, thinking and understanding, he said, and renaming the lake would be a step in the right direction of recognizing the role of Native American people in the U.S.

Beyond reconciliation, he said changing the name would be an act of teaching and respect, noting that it would generate questions from young people.

Commissioner Linda Higgins worked to shoot down the argument that Bde Maka Ska shouldn’t be the name because it’s hard to pronounce. She said she didn’t know how to pronounce a lot of names when she first moved to Minnesota but that pronunciation got easier with time.

Commissioner Jan Callison said she agreed with McLaughlin and Higgins that names matter. In an attempt to respond to arguments on both sides of the issue, she offered an amendment that both names be used.

Callison noted Star Tribune research that found that Lake Calhoun has had many names over the years. She added that, while Minnesota has a history of using Native American names, most of those names have been Anglicized so it’s not confusing for an eye used to English.

She said she fears that people will resort to using a nickname because they are not comfortable with the name.

“For this name, they’ll pick Lake Bde, and I think that’s just a sin for this lake,” she said.

Commissioner Mike Opat voiced support for the resolution, saying that it would be a win-win. He said he’s never received more email or phone traffic on an issue and that it’s been decidedly one sided against changing the name.

Commissioner Marion Greene questioned whether grassroots organizing on this issue was indicative of how people actually feel about the change. She said she appreciated the sentiment of finding middle ground but that one name would come in second in an arrangement like that.

Callison’s amendment failed on a 4-3 vote, with Greene, McLaughlin, Higgins and Commissioner Debbie Goettel voting against it.

Goettel said she heard a roughly 50-50 split of comments for and against in her district. She said society doesn’t have to change every name that falls out of favor but should make a statement. Changing the name would right a historical wrong, she said.

Commissioner Jeff Johnson said he wouldn’t support the change because he doesn’t believe the national frenzy to rename buildings and more accomplishes anything other than to widen divisions.

He said changing the name would change history, adding that many other early American figures, such as Washington and Lincoln, held views found repugnant today.

“Once we start this, it will not end, and I’m absolutely convinced of that,” he said.

He said he thinks the focus should be on teaching children about all sides of American history rather than on changing names.

Greene said it’s inconvenient to acknowledge that Calhoun was an advocate for slavery and white supremacy. But she said it’s important to face that truth and learn something from it.

She noted the extensive process the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board went through in recommending a name change, adding that many people at a forum she hosted on Nov. 20 supported the change.

She questioned whether the county should want to elevate Lake Calhoun’s namesake, John C. Calhoun, who was a supporter of slavery.

The motion to recommend a name change passed with Greene, McLaughlin, Higgins and Goettel in support.

Pete Boulay of the DNR said a state decision wouldn’t take too long. Approval from the federal board could take longer, Boulay said, because they notify Native American tribes and give them time to respond.

  • Patrick Burns

    The name is hard to say, hard to remember, and hard to remember the correct spelling. With absolute respect, is that all they could come up with? Will the Parkway’s name be changed as well? That would be a disaster!

  • James

    politically correct nonsense.

  • http://www.centerfornaturalhealing.us/ A Bruce Boraas

    Maybe White Earth Lake if it must be changed. This name does not work well in our current language. Yes, I know we have many name derived from American Indian usage, and they all flow well and are easy to use. This one does not. we can do better while still respecting the heritage.

  • Patrick Burns

    James, James; I believe it was you who renamed the lake. Everyone thinks the name you selected for the lake is very noble and sensitive. However, you are in stitches because of the subliminal English translation of Bde Maka Ska! I find it appalling what you’ve done! You haven’t fooled me; not even one iota!!!!! Once everyone is aware of this cryptic translation, the name of the lake will change once again!

  • Tim Cadotte

    Is it possible that the signage could be in both languages? Bde Maka Ska and below it Lake White Earth. In the same sense there are two names on the signage now.

  • Patrick Burns

    Bruce, I know exactly what you mean. I’m not sure why the translation was looked at more carefully. It absolutely does not sound right.

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