An advisory group on Tuesday overwhelmingly urged the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to support restoring the name of Lake Calhoun to the Dakota Bde Maka Ska.
The 15-4 vote ratifies an informal position the group advising the board on Calhoun-Harriet renovations took last fall in favor of the name restoration. The appointed group urged the board to advocate for the name restoration with other government bodies that would play a role.
The proposal to delete Calhoun's name originally arose from the 19th century politician's outspoken advocacy for slavery in the American south. But native American activists added momentum to the push, citing Calhoun's policy of forced relocation of southeastern tribes. They say the issue is restoring a Dakota name in use when whites arrived in the area.
The proposal has aroused widespread debate. Opponents of changing a long-used name argue that applying present-day attitudes to historical figures is a slippery slope. They also contend that the Dakota name is hard to pronounce.
The proposal by no means assures that the Park Board will follow suit. Park commissioners voted in September to add the Dakota name to signs at Calhoun without seeking a change in the name, which involves a lengthy process involving three levels of government.
Some commissioners have argued that the board should delay a decision on supporting a name change until the advisory group acted. Others said more public input should be sought. Still others such as Anita Tabb said they oppose a name change on principle. Brad Bourn has argued to fellow commissioners that they should change the name immediately. Any board vote would likely follow considerably more public input, but that won't happen until the board gets the group's formal set of recommendaitons for a master plan for the lakes, possibly this summer.
A subgroup of the advisory committee focused on equity issues called a name change "an historic and important gesture of practical reconciliation."
"This act of name restoration would send a clarion message, not only to the Dakota people who visit this land feeling unrecognized and unwelcome, but to all people who feel marginalized or displaced due to culture, age, ethnicity or ability," the subcommittee said.
Under state law, a group of citizens may initiate a name change proposal by petition to the Hennepin County Board but must post a bond to cover costs. The board then holds a hearing, and makes a recommendation to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, whose commissioner then makes a recommendation to a federal geographic names board. Park Board President said she's been told that the county would waive a bond if the request came from the board, but that the amount hasn't been detemrined for a petition by citizens.
"If you look at the names of all these lakes in Minnesota, they've already been named by our people," said LeMoine LaPointe.
Leaders of the Legacy Council at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park spoke, comparing the naming issue to the naming of that park after the slain civil rights leader after his death.
The only member of the public to speak in favor of keeping the current name was Arlene Fried, a co-founder of Mpls Park Watch. "Lake Calhoun is a brand, and there is measureable value in the name," she said.
The Calhoun-Harriet advisory group's earlier discussion of the naming issue, which resulted in a consensus behind a name change, prompted the resignation of its chairman, Peter Bell. He said that the group should focus on the larger issues of recommending renovations of park facilities at the lakes..
(Photo above: Park maintenance workers installed dual-name signs at Calhoun last fall. Staff photo by Kyndell Harkness. Illustration right: George Catlin illustration of Cloud Man Village southeast of Lake Calhoun in the mid-1830s.)