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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Apollo Grace

    It’d be nice if the article above gave us a pronunciation guide. Honestly, that’s my only problem with any of this, I like to know how to pronounce words, and I don’t yet get these guys. Is “bde” essentially two syllables, like “buhday”, or “buhdeh”?

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