The behind-the-scenes legal wrangling over possibly renaming Lake Calhoun took another turn Friday when a new legal opinion for Minneapolis park commissioners said a change would require legislative action.
Attorney Brian Rice said in an opinion for next week’s Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board meeting that he doubts state law allows the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to change a lake name after 40 years, which contradicts another legal memo saying that DNR staff believes the agency can rename the lake.
Rice said he doubts a DNR change would stand up in court.
Rice said the Park Board still has the option of asking the Legislature to remove Calhoun’s name from the lake. Rice said lawmakers could then create a process for the Park Board or another authority to rename the lake. That raises the issue of how much political capital the Park Board would want to spend lobbying for that.
“I am not of the opinion that we should rush into anything,” Board President Liz Wielinski said.
The board is scheduled to discuss the legal issues on Wednesday. It has come under pressure for a name change from some community members who regard the lake’s namesake, John C. Calhoun, as a strong slavery advocate, while others argue that most historical figures have warts.
Pete Boulay, the DNR official who processes naming requests, said the 40-year limit in state law for changing the history of a name requirement is trumped by the lack of such a requirement in federal law.
Rice does leave another potential avenue open for asserting the DNR’s authority to change a name when “no single, generally accepted name has been used.”
The federal name of Calhoun has been used for at least 195 years, but Dakota sources say the native name was Bde Maka Ska. A plaque placed at the lake in 1930 assets that Dakota lived at the site for more than two centuries. Another popular name in vogue for the lake in the late 19th century was Medoza, although it was never officially adopted.
According to a park staff memo, the Calhoun name dates to at least 1820, noted in Henry Schoolcraft’s narrative of an expedition. Another expedition three years later attributes the name to honor the then-secretary of war, later a South Carolina senator.