Minnesota House votes to rename Lake Calhoun as Bde Maka Ska

Minnesota House Democrats voted to rename Lake Calhoun as Bde Maka Ska on Tuesday, one day after a court ruled that the state DNR did not have the authority to rename the Minneapolis lake on its own.

The legislative effort faces two potential roadblocks: Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he favored the Lake Calhoun name, while Gov. Tim Walz broke with House Democrats over the timing of the legislation because of pending legal action

Several Democrats offered the lake renaming as an amendment to the House’s environmental finance bill Tuesday afternoon. There was no discussion and the amendment was approved on a voice vote after less than 30 seconds.

Democrats and several local officials in Minneapolis expressed frustration when an appeals court reverted the name of Bde Maka Ska back to Lake Calhoun after determining that the state DNR should not have changed it in the first place. 

“The decision from the appellate court says this is up to the Legislature. We’re still in session. There’s absolutely no reason why we wouldn’t take it up,” said state Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, who offered the amendment.

The lake is named after John Calhoun, a former vice president and war secretary who imposed the policy of Native American removal from their lands. Bde Maka Ska is the Native American name for the lake.

Walz supports changing the name of Lake Calhoun, but told FOX 9 that lawmakers should wait for the court process to play out. The DNR has 29 days to decide whether to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

“I think it’s too early at this point,” Walz said, when asked about the legislation. “I think there’s a process that’s in place. We want to make sure that continues on.”

Any change in state law would require votes from Senate Republicans. On Monday, Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he favored Lake Calhoun. He walked away instead of answering a question of whether he thought Calhoun was an admirable figure.

“I’d much prefer to have people weigh in and have much more dialogue than adding an amendment to a bill,” Gazelka said about the process. “It’s not about replacing one with the other. I think the solution going forward is something about sharing some of the things we have in our culture.”

Becker-Finn was sharply critical when told about Gazelka’s comments. 

“If you prefer the name of someone who was a big fan of slavery, that’s your choice,” Becker-Finn said. “But the reality is that Bde Maka Ska was the name of that lake long before settlers came to this land.”

No more ‘Mondale State Park’

Meanwhile, House Democrats have pulled back in their attempt to rename a Minnesota state park after former Vice President Walter Mondale after the idea faced opposition.

Instead, a separate amendment would name two state park visitor centers, a trail, an overlook and a day use area after the former vice president.

Mondale was instrumental in getting federal designation for the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway. 

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler had initially wanted to rename Interstate State Park in Taylors Falls. When that drew local pushback, he changed course and sought $50,000 to change St. Croix State Park near Hinckley. But the controversy simply moved upriver, FOX 9 reported in mid-April. 

Instead, Winkler is now seeking to rename the visitors centers at Wild River and St. Croix state parks after Mondale. Interstate State Park’s overlook and trail would be renamed, as would a day use center at William O’Brien State Park, under the $50,000 budget request.

The House passed the Mondale amendment on a voice vote. It will require further negotiation with the Senate.