Group changes Lake Calhoun's name on signs, park board considers change

It might be the most popular lake in the city of Minneapolis, but there's a new push to rename it after a group posted signs with Lake Calhoun's original name.  A park board meeting to discuss the issue took place Wednesday night.

The Minneapolis park board doesn't have the authority to change the name of Lake Calhoun, but that doesn't mean there won't be some changes to the signs around the lake.

For being one of the most popular lakes in the land of 10,000 of them, not many people know the history of Calhoun's name.  But what's in a name depends on who you ask.

“It causes some people a lot of pain,” a Minneapolis resident said. “It’s named after someone who was pro-slavery. I don't see how this helps our society at all, why not change it.”

Lake Calhoun was named after Vice President and Secretary of War John C. Calhoun who authorized the building of Fort Snelling in the early 1800's.

On Wednesday morning, someone put up temporary signs around the lake with the name Mde Maka Ska (White Earth Lake), but the signs were quickly taken down. The name was used by the Dakota people who originally inhabited the area.

“Given that this lake already has a beautiful name, I don't see the problem of going back to that name,” Dr. Kate Beane, descendant of the Dakota tribe, said.

The Minneapolis park board discussed whether it has the authority to wade into the controversy.  Some board members say the lake shouldn't be named after someone who supported slavery and wrote the Indian removal act, while others argued changing the name after nearly two centuries would be too much trouble.

“It would be a shame if this board used laws to defend a white tradition of the lake when there is a valid Dakota tradition of the lake,” Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner Brad Bourne said.

“What we are doing is cleansing the past, and once we start... when do we stop?" Annie Young, park board commissioner, said.

In the end, the board decided to add signs to the current ones with the Dakota name underneath. But some who want more recognition of those Native Americans beyond a plaque say it’s only a first step.

“It takes a long time for change and we as Indian people as Dakota people have waited long enough,” Beane said.

The move now goes to the park board staff to decide how to implement this. There’s no timeline on when those new signs will go up.