MN Supreme Court: DNR had right to rename Lake Calhoun as Bde Maka Ska

The Supreme Court rejected a challenge brought by local homeowners.

The Minnesota DNR Commissioner had the authority to rename Lake Calhoun as Bde Maka Ska, the Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled.

The majority opinion was issued by the Supreme Court on Wednesday, which follows a legal challenge from Save Lake Calhoun, which comprised a number of homeowners who live on the lake, after the lake was changed to its original, Lakota name in 2018.

Then-DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr approved the name change, but opponents had argued that he didn't have authority to rename lakes or other bodies of water when their names have existed for more than 40 years.

The majority of the Supreme Court justices disagreed, saying this prevents county boards changing names, not the commissioner.

Justice David L. Lillehaug, writing an affirming opinion, found that the DNR Commissioner "has statutory authority to change the names of Minnesota lakes, including those with names existing for 40 years or more."

"Under Minnesota law, the body of water that was Lake Calhoun is now Bde Maka Ska."

Writing a dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Lorie Gildea said that the Legislature had not intended for the DNR Commissioner to have such power over lake names.

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"Under today’s decision, if the DNR desires to change the names of Lake Vermilion, Lake Minnetonka, Lake of the Woods, Gull Lake, etc., it can do so without any input from the communities where these lakes are located," she wrote.

"This decision should upset and unsettle every Minnesotan and most especially those who live in a community with a lake."

It should be noted that the decision to rename Lake Calhoun followed a grassroots campaign in Minneapolis that was backed by the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation board and the city council.

Opponents to the name change claimed the lake was the victim of "extremist name-change advocacy" relating to John C. Calhoun, who was instrumental in the founding of Fort Snelling but was a notable defender of slavery.

The name Bde Maka Ska has already been recognized by the federal government. It was the lake's name at the state level that was the subject of the challenge.

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