Dakota name will be added to Lake Calhoun signs

Supporters of renaming Lake Calhoun added stickers to signs around the lake with the Dakota name in 2015. Parks staff have since removed the signs. Credit: Photo courtesy of Katie Opsahl Lister

The Park Board approved new signage for Lake Calhoun on Wednesday that will add the Dakota name Bde Maka Ska (White Earth Lake) along with the current name, but stopped short of pushing for an official rename of the lake.

Following the shooting massacre at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. earlier this summer, a campaign to change Lake Calhoun’s name got new momentum. The lake is named after John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina politician who was an ardent supporter of slavery and vice president of the United States from 1825-1832.

Supporters of the name change have been calling on the Park Board to pass a resolution supporting an official name change.

A motion offered by Park Commissioner Brad Bourn that would have had the Park Board on record as supporting an official name change as part of its legislative agenda failed.

“Tonight, the Park Board was asked to do the bare minimum in the community’s effort to restore the indigenous name of Bde Maka Ska and somehow, the board managed to pat ourselves on the back for doing even less,” he wrote on his Facebook page after the meeting. “A motion was offered to make it the position of the Park Board oppose naming the crown jewel of our parks after Vice President Calhoun and to support the removal of the name with other bodies of government. The motion failed. Instead the board voted to place the indigenous name of the lake, as one commissioner called it, any piece of ‘plywood’ and put it next to the signs honoring John C. Calhoun.”

A similar campaign pushing for renaming the lake stalled in 2011 when the Park Board determined it didn’t have the authority to change the lake’s name on its own since it requires additional approvals from state leaders. 

Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, supporters of the name change plastered signs around the lake with the Dakota name, but parks staff quickly removed them. 

Bourn said he expects the Park Board to discuss the renaming issue again this year and will be working with supporters to press ahead.

Dawn Sommers, marketing and communications director for the Park Board, said a timeline and budget haven’t been finalized yet for the new Lake Calhoun signs.