New petition seeks to rename Lake Calhoun for Wellstone

Bde Maka Ska was added to Lake Calhoun signage this spring. File photo
Bde Maka Ska was added to Lake Calhoun signage this spring. File photo

A petition to rename Lake Calhoun after the late Sen. Paul Wellstone made its way to the Hennepin County Board in October, about a week before a scheduled public hearing on two other name-change proposals for the lake.

In May, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board put its support behind efforts to restore the name Bde Maka Ska, or “White Earth Lake” in Dakota. The Park Board added Bde Maka Ska to Lake Calhoun signage this spring.

The change recognized years of campaigning by community members to remove from the lake the name Calhoun, which for many is indelibly linked to the country’s history of slavery and racism.

The lake was given the name Calhoun in the early 1820s in honor of John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina statesman who at the time was serving as U.S. Secretary of War. Calhoun planned the construction of a series of frontier forts, including nearby Fort Snelling.

Later serving as vice president and a senator from South Carolina, Calhoun became an outspoken defender of slavery and white supremacy. It was in recognition of that legacy that Yale University in February decided rename a residential college that had previously honored Calhoun, an alumnus.

Approval for the name change must be granted by the Hennepin County Board and then the Department of Natural Resources. The process then moves to the federal level.

More than 200 county residents signed the petition in support of Bde Maka Ska. A separate petition, offering the alternate name Lake Maka Ska, was sent to the county board with 18 signatures.

An Oct. 17 public hearing on both petitions was already set when the third petition arrived at the county board. Brought by Peter Holmes, who lists a CARAG neighborhood address, the petition in support of Lake Wellstone carries 20 signatures.

A memo attached to the petition notes Calhoun’s record of defending slavery, adding, “it is seen by many in our pluralistic age to be indefensible to continue to link the lake and the man.”

The memo argues it would be “particularly fitting” to name the lake after Wellstone because he, his wife and daughter are buried in nearby Lakewood Cemetery. The three were among seven people killed in a 2002 plane crash in Northern Minnesota.

County spokesperson Carolyn Marinan said there were no plans to schedule a second public hearing, adding that the previously scheduled hearing would be a time for the public to air their views on any of the proposals.

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  • JDO1947

    It’s absolutely pathetic how some people can waste time and our money chasing rabbits down a hole.

  • Megan

    I don’t think renaming it Bde Maka Ska would be the best choice since that is kind of hard to pronounce and remember, but naming it “white earth lake” with the Dakota Bde Maka Ska under it could be fitting if we must change the name. At this point everyone knows it as calhoun though and will probably still call it that regardless. At this point, most people just associate the name with a fun lake to hang out at and don’t actually realize the link to that guy. Changing the name honestly just adds confusion even though there is a valid argument for it since it’s named after a person who supported terrible things.

  • Blue Funnies

    People are perfectly able to learn a word or name from another language if it’s part of their world. We learned how to pronounce “Nikita Khrushchev” and “beef bourguignon,” we can learn how to pronounce the name of a lake.

  • Sean Ryan

    That certainly didn’t work for Nickolet, Monta-sello, or blazedale, has it?

  • Blue Funnies

    You know, you’re right. We should give those areas Dakota names since the European ones are hard to pronounce.

  • Greg Laden

    Or out by Alexandria, Lake Lahammadoo

  • Mac

    The best course of action here would be inaction. Leave it as-is. But if we must change the name of our lake, then make it Lake Wellstone. Honor a man who stuck to his values, loved Minnesota, and is pronounceable. But I’d simply prefer to not change history. Keep it Lake Calhoun and add a plaque about his deeds and his decisions that though popular in his time, would be indefensible 200 years later. Teach through history.

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