You might not know it, but if you've driven the eight lanes of Interstate 35E cutting through Little Canada, you've crossed a lake — hardly visible behind the retaining walls — whose eastern shoreline was once home to a Dakota summer hunting camp.

Once French Canadian trappers arrived in the area, it became a rendezvous point for the two groups in about the 1830s, according to "Little Canada … A Voyageur's Vision," a book published by the Little Canada Historical Society. The French Canadians gave the lake the name "Lac au Sauvages," which inelegantly translates to Savage Lake.

Now, that name might not be long for the maps.

The Ramsey County Board has set a public hearing for Jan. 23 to discuss a proposal to rename the body of water, technically a wetland, as Lake Métis — a name that local historical society officials say better honors Little Canada's history.

Rocky Waite, a longtime Little Canada resident, has been lobbying to change Savage Lake's name for a decade. Waite, who has Chickasaw and Choctaw ancestry, said he has never liked the name and that he decided to push to change it when he retired.

The idea hasn't always been popular, especially with some Little Canadians descended from families that have been there for generations, Waite said. But a recent shakeup in some of the city's leadership has helped the idea gain traction, he said.

Curt Loschy, executive director of the Little Canada Historical Society, said inertia was an issue. But he thinks conversations surrounding revisions of the state flag and seal have opened people's eyes to the need for changes elsewhere.

"I think most people want it changed and they don't care much what it's changed to," Loschy said. Still, not everybody in town agrees, he said: "I think it's more because they just don't think it should be changed because it's always been that way."

Under Minnesota law, the process to change Savage Lake's name is a tiered one. The first step was taken when the Little Canada Historical Society submitted a petition to Ramsey County requesting a change. The petition must include the signature of at least 15 voters registered in the county.

In August, the Little Canada City Council passed a resolution on a 3-0 vote in support of renaming the lake. It was a step, City Administrator Chris Heineman said, that county officials asked them to take to get council input in the process.

Last week, the Ramsey County Board set the public hearing date for January to gather public comment on the proposal to change the lake's name to Lake Métis.

Name changes

The hunting camp on the shore of Savage Lake was a day's travel in the 1800s from Kaposia, the Dakota village on the Mississippi River, according to the Little Canada book.

Whether the French Canadians were referring to the Dakota when they called the lake "Lac au Sauvages," or the name was meant more as a nod to the lakes, woods and streams in the area — "Sauvage" also means "wild" in French, said Jon Tremblay, a Little Canada Historical Society board member — the English translation poses problems.

"It's a bad name for the lake in a 99.9 percent English-speaking community," Tremblay said.

While the lake's name is generally considered offensive to Indigenous people, it's not the same for the city of Savage in Scott County. Formerly known as Hamilton, it was renamed for Marion Willis Savage, best known as the owner of race horse Dan Patch.

Waite said he hasn't been able to find a historic Dakota name for Savage Lake. In light of that, he and others want to name it Lake Métis, a nod to the people of mixed Indigenous and European ancestry who permanently settled the area.

"Metis just comes from the French verb, 'métisser,' which means to mix, socially or blood," Tremblay said. "If you know the origin of the word, it's not difficult to see the connection."

If the County Board agrees the name should be changed to Lake Métis, the proposal would go to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for Commissioner Sarah Strommen's consideration, said Pete Boulay, who handles naming requests at the DNR. If Strommen approves, the name would go to Ramsey County to be recorded and then to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names for federal consideration.

"If they approve it, then you'll see it on Google," Boulay said.

Minnesota's most high-profile lake name change in recent years was Bde Maka Ska in Minneapolis, formerly known as Lake Calhoun after 19th-century pro-slavery statesman John C. Calhoun. Name changes usually aren't that controversial, and there are typically a few that happen more quietly in the state every year, Boulay said.

If proponents succeed in changing the name of Lake Savage, it could raise the question of what to do about Savage Lane, which runs south of the lake. That decision would rest with the city, and Waite said they'll cross that bridge when they come to it.

"One battle at a time," he said.