The fight over the body of water formerly known as Lake Calhoun landed Tuesday in the Minnesota Legislature, where House Democrats rallied behind a proposal to once again call it by its indigenous name, Bde Maka Ska.
Scarcely 24 hours after a state appeals court invalidated the new name, House Democrats adopted an amendment to an environmental spending bill to officially recognize the south Minneapolis lake by its Dakota name, which translates to Lake White Earth.
The move could push the controversy into end-of-session negotiations next month, as the Republican-led Senate appeared unlikely to follow suit in any of its pending spending bills.
A similar proposal to give the Department of Natural Resources authority to change the name stalled in a Senate committee on Tuesday. Republican Sen. Paul Gazelka, majority leader in the upper chamber, said that while he’s open to officially recognizing the lake as both Calhoun and Bde Maka Ska, he does not want the issue to be part of the budget negotiations.
“I’d much prefer to have people weigh in and have much more dialogue then just add an amendment to the bill,” the Nisswa Republican said.
The House vote followed a state Court of Appeals ruling that the Department of Natural Resources did not have legal authority to change the lake’s name to Bde Maka Ska last year. The court said the decision should rest with the Legislature.
Despite strong feelings on both sides, the DFL amendment was adopted without debate, a rarity for lawmakers who have clashed for hours over budget provisions large and small in recent weeks. It was approved by a voice vote with a smattering of no votes, signaling that opponents of the name change will rely on the Senate, or the courts, instead.
Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, a supporter of the amendment, said restoring the name change acknowledges the “existence and the value of our indigenous communities.”
“We’re in a time and age in history where we recognize that we stand on Dakota land that was either forcibly removed from the Dakotas or financial promises that were made in exchange for the land have not been kept in full honesty,” the New Brighton Democrat said Monday.
The lake was previously named after Vice President John C. Calhoun, a Southerner who supported slavery and promoted the American Indian removal policy in the 1820s.
The name change has divided communities and inflamed tensions across the metro region. But with further appeals likely, Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, suggested that legislative action might be premature.
“I think it’s too early at this point,” he told TV station Fox 9. “I think there’s a process that’s in place. We want to make sure that continues on.”
While the ruling means the lake’s current legal name is Calhoun, some local leaders and entities, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and the city park board, say they will stick with Bde Maka Ska. Federal documents will also continue to use the Dakota name.