Residents voice opinions on changing name of Lake Calhoun

More than 20 people spoke in favor of changing the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska at a public hearing Tuesday.

Speakers argued that a change would honor Dakota history and that the lake shouldn’t be named after John Calhoun, who promoted slavery and Native American removal. Speakers also said Bde Maka Ska would be a welcoming name and would get people more interested in Dakota history.

Most of the speakers at the hearing were in favor of the proposed change.

“Our lake is not a brand,” said Kate Beane, a descendant of the Dakota chief Cloud Man, who established a village by the lake in the early 19th century. “It’s time that we be consulted and be part of this process.”

The public hearing came as the Hennepin County Board prepares to take up the proposed change. County commissioners did not give their thoughts on any potential changes but rather listened to public comments.

The County Board could vote to rename the lake Bde Maka Ska, pick another name or keep the name as is. The state Department of Natural Resources commissioner would need to approve any change, and the U.S. Board on Geographic Names would need to give final approval.

The Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board voted to support the name change in May.

Tuesday’s public hearing was centered around the petition to change the name to Bde Maka Ska. There are currently two other petitions to change the lake’s name — one to Lake Maka Ska and another to Lake Wellstone, in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone. No one spoke on behalf of those petitions.

Bde Maka Ska (pronounced b-day ma-kha skah) translates to white earth lake in Dakota.

Tuesday’s hearing began with three residents advocating to keep the lake named after Calhoun. Arlene Fried said the renaming of landmarks, such as Lake Calhoun, is costly, confusing and disruptive. Lawrence Saltzman, former director of the Lake Calhoun Sailing School, said the present signage with both names recognizes the dual history.

Resident Tom Austin said he talked with 350 neighborhood residents this summer and more than 95 percent told him they did not support a change.

Bean said “99.9 percent” of the Native community supports the change. Her father, Syd Beane, said that homeowners are a small percentage of people who use the lake.

“This lake belongs to all of us here,” said Barbara Olson, a member of the Park Board’s community advisory committee. “The people who live around the lake don’t own the lake.”

Harvey Zuchman, also a committee member, said he never understood why the lake is named after a man who never stepped foot in Minnesota. He said the new name would be inclusive and send a message that all are welcome here.

Tracy Nordstrom said the “music of the words” Bde Maka Ska will incite a curiosity to learn more. She said the change would affirm that Hennepin County welcomes “the diversity that surrounds us” and that the county is able to right itself from past mistakes and omissions.

Not everyone expressed support, however. One man said said changing the name would open a “Pandora’s box.”

“Where does it end?” he asked. “There is a practical limit before we completely destroy ourselves.”

Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said the board would take up the matter before the end of the year.