Workers installed new placards on the roads ringing Bde Maka Ska/Lake Calhoun on Thursday morning, just hours after the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted to rename four parkways with the original Dakota name.
The 7-2 decision effectively scrubbed the lake’s namesake, John C. Calhoun — the politician who advocated for slavery and the removal of American Indians from their lands in the early 19th century — from its beaches.
“I feel like progress is moving, slowly but surely,” said Park Board Commissioner Londel French, who is black. “[Calhoun] voted for people like me to be enslaved, so I don’t see how I could agree with his legacy being upheld.”
French planned to visit the lake for an evening stroll, where he’d check out the newly minted signs. He said he hopes the change will help teach people about the land’s indigenous history and show Indian neighbors that their voice matters.
As a result of Wednesday’s vote, W. Calhoun Boulevard, Calhoun Drive and E. and W. Lake Calhoun parkways will be named W. Bde Maka Ska Boulevard, Bde Maka Ska Drive and E. and W. Bde Maka Ska parkways.
The new placards for E. and W. Bde Maka Ska parkways went up Thursday morning. Thirty-three green street signs will be replaced in about two months, a process that will cost about $3,500, according to a city spokesperson.
Most of the vocal opposition against the name change came from longtime residents who live on the four parkways. Several people expressed concerns about the name being difficult to pronounce and the work it would require to update their mailing information.
Ed Bell, 77, told commissioners he’d rather see his tax dollars go toward efforts to improve public health, graduation rates and homelessness. “I’m disappointed that we’re not taking care of what we have — not filling potholes … ,” he said.
Commissioners Meg Forney and Steffanie Musich voted against changing the parkways’ names, with Forney requesting that the word “Bde” be dropped.
Sid Bean, a descendant of a village leader on the lake and a leading advocate for the Dakota name, acknowledged that the debate has become politically divisive. But he believes continued historical education will ultimately sway many detractors.
“Minnesota is a Dakota name,” said Bean, an enrolled member of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. “This is a Dakota state and its history is integral to it.”
The change is the latest in a yearslong back-and-forth surrounding the name of one of Minneapolis’ most popular lakes. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) restored the name to Bde Maka Ska, meaning “White Earth Lake,” in 2018, a decision that’s now under review by the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Should the court rule that the DNR lacked authority to do so, the lake’s name and surrounding signage may end up disjointed. Bde Maka Ska supporters such as French say that doesn’t concern them, because they feel strongly that they’re on the “right side of history.”
“We have a long way to go in this country to heal some of the wounds of the past,” French said.
Staff writers Miguel Otárola and Katie Galioto contributed to this report.
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648