The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources will challenge a state appeals court decision invalidating the renaming of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, the agency said Wednesday.
DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said the Walz administration will petition the Minnesota Supreme Court this month to reverse a state Court of Appeals ruling that her agency did not have legal authority to change the south Minneapolis lake’s name last year. The court held that only the Legislature, not the DNR, can change a lake name that’s been in use for more than 40 years.
The lake was previously named for U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun, a Southerner who backed slavery and promoted American Indian removal in the 1820s. On Monday, the Court of Appeals concluded that the decision to rename the lake should rest with the Legislature.
Strommen said in a statement Wednesday that the Department of Natural Resources is “very concerned” with the implications of the court decision “for our ability to work with county boards to reflect community standards in how the state’s waters are named.”
“We have long worked with counties in eliminating offensive or derogatory names,” she said.
Strommen added that the agency also feared that the ruling “opens the door for people to challenge a range of final agency decisions well after established appeals periods.”
State Attorney General Keith Ellison said he supports the DNR appeal. “I also believe Minnesotans need a reliable mechanism for renaming places that evoke or celebrate racist parts of our past,” he said in a statement. “We need a way to reflect our values today and pass along the state we want our children to inherit tomorrow.”
A Supreme Court fight over the lake’s renaming will likely be preceded by end-of-session budget negotiations later this month, as House Democrats on Tuesday adopted an amendment to an environmental spending bill to officially recognize the body of water as Bde Maka Ska. A similar proposal in the Republican-led Senate stalled in a committee earlier that day.
Erick Kaardal, an attorney representing Save Lake Calhoun, said he was not surprised by the DNR’s appeal but noted that it could be rendered moot if House measure clears the Legislature. “We’ll resist the petition from the commissioner, but we also realize the case could be mooted out, in other words we lose, if the state Legislature officially changes the name,” he said.
Meanwhile, Kaardal said, he has asked the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to immediately restore the name of Lake Calhoun. Failure to do so, he wrote to the Board, “would be arbitrary and capricious.”