Park Board considers removing ‘Calhoun’ from street names

Park Board Commissioner Jono Cowgill said he hopes to update “the street names around Bde Maka Ska to reflect the name of the lake.” Photo by Zac Farber

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) is considering changing the names of four roads near Bde Maka Ska — East Lake Calhoun Parkway, West Lake Calhoun Parkway, Calhoun Drive and Calhoun Boulevard West.

On March 27, the Park Board Administration and Finance Committee approved an ordinance that would allow the names of the 42 roadways controlled by the MPRB to be changed by a vote of at least six of the nine commissioners. The measure still needs to go before the full board. Board members promised to hold public meetings before voting on any name change.

Commissioner Jono Cowgill (District 4) said he hopes to update the street names in order to “reflect the new name of the lake” but first wants to find out the impact of a change on those who live on the roads.

With Lake Calhoun’s name officially changed back to Bde Maka Ska — its original Native American designation — a number of neighborhood organizations and local businesses have followed suit.

The West Calhoun Neighborhood Council (WCNC) is asking its residents if they want to change the name of their organization to West Lake or West Maka Ska. The East Calhoun Community Organization (ECCO) will soon poll residents on whether or not to change the group’s name.

“It doesn’t make sense to have a neighborhood called West Calhoun that’s on Lake Maka Ska,” WCNC Board chair Allan Campbell said.

Bde Maka Ska (pronounced b-day ma-kha skah) translates to White Earth Lake in Dakota. Activists successfully mobilized to change the lake’s name in January 2018, saying it was wrong to honor John Calhoun, a defender of slavery who helped orchestrate exploitive treaties separating Native Americans from their land.

Campbell said he attended the March 27 Park Board meeting to ensure the board didn’t make any unilateral decisions about street names.

“There is concern in our neighborhood, and even more in Linden Hills, that the Calhoun names will be changed without consultation with the residents,” he said.

Commissioner Meg Forney said she’s been hearing “a lot of angst” from people worrying about whether a name change would affect their mortgage or their home’s title.

“I see this as an opportunity to raise awareness of why it is that we moved to change the name of a lake,” she said. “My interest is to be transparent and engage the community in what we stand for.”

Ed Bell told the Park Board he lives on West Lake Calhoun Parkway and is concerned about the cost of a name change and about “where we stop when it comes to political correctness.”

Bell’s wife, Carolyn, described herself as a lifetime educator.

“We cannot change history, we can’t fix it, we can’t erase it,” she said. “In order to learn from it, we must keep it intact in the sense we can use it to educate.”

During her remarks, Carolyn Bell praised the curiosity of a group of five Sanford Middle School students who had spoken a few minutes before her.

The students came before the Park Board after watching a video in Casey Metcalfe’s Minnesota Studies class about how the state’s first governor, Henry Sibley, had “cheated many Dakota people by being one of the signers of the 1851 Treaty of Traverse des Sioux.”

During the lesson, the students began to wonder why their neighborhood park was named after Sibley, asking: “If Sibley harmed so many people, why don’t they change the park name?”

“I think changing the street names is the same thing as changing the name of the lake and changing the name of Sibley Park,” Hayley Lande, a sixth-grader at Sanford, said. “I feel it’s an important thing to do because Calhoun was a slave owner.”  

Soren Miller-Sardelis, Hayley Lande and Siri Vossen came asked the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to change the name of Sibley Park after learning about Gov. Henry Sibley's exploitation of the Dakota people in the mid-19th century. Photo by Zac Farber
Soren Miller-Sardelis, Hayley Lande and Siri Vossen asked the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to change the name of Sibley Park after learning about Gov. Henry Sibley’s exploitation of the Dakota people in the mid-19th century. Photo by Zac Farber