The idea of renaming Minneapolis' most popular lake is bubbling up again after Yale University struck John C. Calhoun's name from one of its residential colleges.
Citing Yale's decision last month, some Minneapolis Park Board members are renewing a push to scrap the Lake Calhoun name in favor of Bde Maka Ska, the lake's Dakota name. Calhoun, the seventh vice president of the United States for whom the lake is named, was an influential and lifelong advocate of slavery. While the board previously settled on labeling the lake with both names rather than making an official change, the Park Board has a chance to revisit the idea before finalizing the Calhoun-Harriet master plan this spring.
"I know John C. Calhoun doesn't reflect the values of the city of Minneapolis," said Commissioner Brad Bourn, a proponent of changing the name. "We're at a point in history that it's critical that we recognize the contributions of First Nations people and recognize that they're welcomed members of the community and they always have been and this is really a small way we can do that."
But other Park Board members aren't convinced about the need for change, and wonder if it would be the start down a slippery slope.
"It doesn't really address problems of equity," Park Board President Anita Tabb said. "If we change this, what other names in our system need to be changed and where does that end?"
Amid growing national debate over Calhoun, a community advisory group has urged the Park Board to support restoring the Dakota name Bde Maka Ska. Park officials are expected to vote on the name change recommendation, among other items, as part of the Calhoun-Harriet master plan. The plan is open for public input through March 4 and slated to go before the board in April.
But a name change wouldn't be certain, even if the Park Board approves it. The Park Board would forward the request to the Hennepin County Board. Then the County Board would have to hold a public hearing, vote to approve the change, and make a proposal to Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The DNR would have to make an appeal to U.S. Board of Geographic Names for federal use and approval.
"I can see myself changing the name of a baseball field or a park," said Park Board Member Liz Wielinski. "It's not my place to change the name of something like a lake."
Yale University replaced Calhoun's name with Grace Murray Hopper, an alumna who was a pioneering mathematician and computer scientist.
Park Board Member Annie Young said she commends Yale's decision, but questions the effort of implementing such change. Young said the board has already changed the name of the lake when it added Bde Maka Ska to its signs in 2015. Now, she said, it would be better to spend time educating the public about the Dakota history of the lake.
Advocates for the name restoration, including representatives of the Dakota community, have said the signs bearing both Bde Maka Ska and Lake Calhoun are a step in the right direction, but are not enough to revive their shadowed history.
And at least one local business owner said the Park Board should proceed with the change.
Luke Breen, who dropped the name Calhoun from his Uptown bike business, said the Park Board should not be dragging out this discussion any longer and should support the community's request. He said his bike shop, which was known as Calhoun Cycle for more than 20 years made a smooth transition to Perennial Cycle last year.
"I don't think Minnesota needs to be having all that long of a debate about keeping a connection to John C. Calhoun," Breen said. "I would like us to dissociate ourselves with John C. Calhoun. His connection to Minnesota was not very strong."
Faiza Mahamud • 612-673-4203