Park commissioners approved the restoration of Lake Calhoun’s Dakota name Wednesday, a step that may lead to an official name change.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s 6-0 vote came as part of the Calhoun/Bde Maka Ska-Harriet Master Plan, a roadmap for improvements to parkland over the next 25 years. Though the board lacks the authority to officially change the name of the lake to Bde Maka Ska, commissioners are advocating Hennepin County, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and any other forum to approve the name.
The support comes after several years of campaigning from residents, activists and Native American groups to drop the name of Calhoun, a former vice president and proponent of slavery. Recently, Yale University dropped Calhoun’s name from a residential college.
The board has previously recognized the Dakota name with updated signage around the Southwest Minneapolis lake. Bde Maka Ska, which is pronounced “b-day ma-kha skah” according to the Dakota Language Society, means “White Earth Lake” in Dakota.
District 6 Commissioner Brad Bourn, who represents much of the area around the lake, said the measure was a “fitting tribute” to the Civil War veterans buried in Lakewood Cemetery, people persecuted during the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 and people who want to create a more inclusive park system.
“This is one of the best things we can do to start healing some of those wounds that are more than 150 years old in our history,” he said. “To all the people that have come forward to work on this issue over the years, over 100-plus years: Thank you. This isn’t the Park Board’s motion. This is your motion. Thank you. This is the most important thing on the Park Board that I’ve ever been a part of.”
The measure raises the question if private businesses and other parties will remove Calhoun from their titles. One business, ECCO’s Perennial Cycle, has already dropped the lake’s name. The board’s vote will not change the name of nearby streets like Calhoun Parkway, East Calhoun Parkway and West Calhoun Parkway due to public safety issues, the board said in a statement.
If the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners approves the name change, it would then move to the DNR to drop the lake’s name for Bde Maka Ska. The DNR would then submit an appeal to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names for final approval, according to the Park Board.
The name change came up as part of a recommendation from the board’s Community Advisory Committee, a 26-member group of appointed residents that helped craft the Calhoun/Bde Maka Ska-Harriet Master Plan. The document plans and prioritizes an estimated $126 million in potential short-term and long-term improvements to the area, likely the most visited regional park in the state with an estimated five million visits annually.
The board has already allocated $3.7 million to improve trails and accessibility around the two lakes and will complete the work this summer. Trails are the most used part of the park with as about four in five visitors come for the trails.
The plan also calls for relocating boat launches, the sailing school and club facilities away from the northeast corner of the lake and building new ones in the northwest corner. A lofty, yet long-awaited proposal is a land bridge or green lid over West Lake Street between Lake Calhoun and Lake of the Isles.
At Lake Harriet, the plan includes the relocation of a bicycle trail to the perimeter around the Lake Harriet Bandshell and building a pier over the lake. It also lays the groundwork to convert the lower road of Lake Harriet Parkway on the lake’s east side to a two-way bike trail.
The Park Board, City of Minneapolis and members of the Dakota community are planning a public art project to honor Cloud Man, or Mahpiya Wicasta, and Cloud Man Village, a settlement that was on the east side of the lake.
More information on the Calhoun/Bde Maka Ska-Harriet Master Plan is available on the Park Board’s website.