Lake Calhoun name remains, but original Dakota name will be added


After a summer-long debate over whether to rename Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis, the city's Park Board decided Wednesday evening to give it two names.

Some "guerrilla artists" didn't wait for the board's meeting, and covered the Lake Calhoun signs overnight with others that said "Lake Mde Maka Ska," a nod to the lake's Dakota Indian name.

Crews took down the signs Wednesday morning.

At the meeting, board members debated whether they had the authority to change the name of the lake on their own, whether they should ask state officials to do so, or whether they wanted to at all.

In the end, the panel decided to list both names on the signs around the lake, the Star Tribune reports. The vote was 6-0 with one abstention.

The Dakota version will be added to all the signage around the lake. It will be "Bde Maka Ska," which is the preferred spelling. It means "White Earth Lake" in Dakota.

The Parks and Recreation Board took up the issue after calls were made to scrap "Calhoun" in the wake of the killing of nine black people in Charleston, South Carolina, in June.

That's because the lake was named after John C. Calhoun, a U.S. senator from South Carolina and former vice president who ordered the construction of what came to be Fort Snelling, but who was also known to be a notorious supporter of slavery.

Changing the name is more difficult

The Park Board had been told it has no power under state law to change the name, though it can make recommendations to the state Department of Natural Resources and state legislators.

Neither the DNR commissioner nor the Legislature has the power to change the name of a lake when the name has existed for more than 40 years. The Lake Calhoun name dates back to the 1830s, the Star Tribune notes.

Legal experts say the Legislature could change the law to give public bodies such as the parks board the authority to change the name of Minnesota lakes. Any name change would need to be agreed to by the U.S. Geographic Board.

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