Group begins legal action to halt Lake Calhoun name change

Save Lake Calhoun claims county board’s resolution in favor of renaming was not valid

A citizen group opposed to changing the name of Lake Calhoun has hired an attorney and is demanding the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources stop the renaming effort from moving forward.

In a Jan. 9 letter to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr, Erick Kaardal, the attorney representing Save Lake Calhoun, argued that the Hennepin County Board “ignored the opposition” when it voted 4–3 in November to restore the lake’s Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska. Kaardal goes on to argue that the process leading up to the vote was “procedurally flawed.”

(Read the letter here: Letter to Commissioner Landwehr 1 9 18)

“The debate over renaming landmarks to meet an agenda-based standard of political correctness is not the issue here,” Kaardal said in a statement released Thursday by a public relations firm retained by Save Lake Calhoun. “The established process for properly seeking a landmark name change has not been followed in this instance and the rights of community residents are being usurped by those who would circumvent the system.”

The resolution passed by the county board requested the DNR “take the steps necessary” to make the name change. During a public hearing held prior to the vote, a clear majority of those who spoke testified in support of changing the name.

Asked to respond, Hennepin County Communications Director Carolyn Marinan provided this statement:

“Minnesota law outlines the procedure counties are to follow when a valid petition for name change is served on it. Hennepin County complied with its statutory obligations and consulted with the Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resource (DNR) regarding the appropriate process. Ultimately, because the name Lake Calhoun has been in existence for more than 40 years, the authority to rename this lake lies with the Commissioner of the DNR.”

In an interview Thursday, Kaardal said Save Lake Calhoun planned to file a claim with the Minnesota Court of Appeals if the DNR approves the name change.

“The fault goes back to the DNR because they sponsored a process that didn’t apply to this lake,” he said.

On Wednesday, all 15 Minneapolis legislators expressed their support for renaming the lake Bde Maka Ska in a letter to Commissioner Landwehr. In their letter, they wrote that the lake’s current name “was chosen to dignify a man that represents a very undignified part of our American experience.”

Chosen by white surveyors in the 1820s, the lake’s name honored U.S. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, who was instrumental in establishing a series of frontier outposts, including nearby Fort Snelling. Supporters of the name change note that Calhoun was a supporter of slavery and had a role in developing a federal policy that uprooted Native American tribes and forced them to move into unfamiliar territories.

The leader of Save Lake Calhoun, Tom Austin, said his survey of people who own homes and businesses near Lake Calhoun determined that nearly 80 percent opposed the name change. Austin is CEO and managing partner of F2 Intelligence Group, Inc., a venture capital and private equity firm headquartered in Uptown’s MoZaic building.

In the statement released by the group Thursday, Austin said, “They were overwhelmingly disgusted that public officials were spending all of this time and energy on the lake renaming issue when there are so many other pressing problems facing the community that need to be addressed.”

Austin did not immediately respond to an email seeking further comment.

Last year, Save Lake Calhoun took out a full-page Star Tribune advertisement that claimed there was documentation to support that the lake was named not for the South Carolina statesman but a Lieutenant Calhoun. Kaardal’s letter states there is “evidence” to support the claim, but does not describe the evidence.

In 2015, former Star Tribune reporter (and current Southwest Journal columnist) Steve Brandt brought the Lt. Calhoun theory to Minnesota Historical Society specialists and found no evidence to support it.

In 2015, nearly 5,000 people signed a petition urging the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to rename the lake. In May of 2017, six months prior to the county board’s vote, the Park Board endorsed changing the lake’s name to Bde Maka Ska when it adopted a master plan for the lake. New signs with both names were posted around the lake in 2017.

The press release issued Thursday by TC Public Relations on behalf of Save Lake Calhoun notes that decision.

“In fact, Lake Calhoun currently carries the additional name Bde Maka Ska, which Save Lake Calhoun representatives say eliminates the need to change anything,” it states.

But the letter from Kaardal took issue with the Park Board’s decision to post the signs, describing the action as “impermissibly ‘jumping the gun’ on the DNR’s exclusive authority to approve a name change if any.”