The Minneapolis Park Board’s planning committee voted unanimously Wednesday night to recommend that Lake Calhoun be renamed Bde Maka Ska, its original Dakota name.
Activists and citizens have long lobbied for the change because John C. Calhoun, the seventh vice president of the United States, was an ardent supporter of slavery.
Previously, the board had settled on labeling Minneapolis’ most popular lake with both names. But after Yale University recently struck Calhoun’s name from one of its residential colleges, the renaming idea bubbled up anew.
“The values [John] Calhoun has been advocating for in the past [are] not the values Minnesota holds,” said Commissioner Brad Bourn.
With Wednesday’s vote, the board’s planning committee voted to accept a citizen advisory panel’s recommendation. The next step will be a May 3 vote by the full park board.
But a name change for the lake is not guaranteed even if it wins approval then.
The Park Board then would need to send a request to the Hennepin County Board, which would have to hold a public hearing, vote to approve the change, then make a proposal to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR would have to appeal to U.S. Board of Geographic Names for federal use and final approval.
“We currently lack the authority to change the name,” Park Board member Steffanie Musich said Wednesday. “But we are moving forward to change the name.”
Other than one speaker who referred to the Calhoun moniker as a brand with “measurable value,” the meeting room was packed with supporters of a name change.
Iyekiyapiwin Darlene St. Clair, an American studies educator at St. Cloud State University, said restoring the name Bde Maka Ska, which translates to White Earth Lake, would go a long way toward acknowledging the sometimes troubling history of Dakota-white relations.
“Bde Maka Ska connects all citizens with the long history of this place and recognizes our shared values and the love of this place, which the name Calhoun doesn’t affirm or represent,” St. Clair said.
Luke Breen, who recently dropped the name “Calhoun” from his Uptown bike business, now called Perennial Cycle, said, “It makes me feel a little better going to work knowing that we did that. You [the Park Board] got an opportunity to show real respect for the native people.”