Kate Beane, carrying her 4-year-old daughter on her hip, slowly approached the podium Tuesday night to address the Hennepin County Board. The subject was renaming Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, its original Dakota name.
In her allotted three minutes, she talked about the injustices to her Dakota ancestors and the importance of reclaiming the lake. And she had her daughter say, "Bde Maka Ska" (pronounced beh-DAY mah-KAH skah) twice to the board to show that the language isn't difficult.
"The lake is not a brand; the water is sacred," she said. "It's time we are consulted on changes. Please respect our wishes."
Beane was among several dozen people who spoke at the two-hour public hearing, which drew an overflow crowd of about 100. The majority of those who shared their opinions favored Bde Maka Ska.
The County Board's hearing, and its vote sometime before the end of the year, are the next steps in the state-mandated process to change the name of a body of water. A board decision to rename the lake would be forwarded to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and then to the U.S. Board of Geographic Names for final approval.
In May, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted unanimously to change the lake's name to Bde Maka Ska, which means White Earth Lake.
The County Board could ratify the Park Board's choice, leave the name as Calhoun, or back one of two other petitions to rename Calhoun either Lake Maka Ska or Lake Wellstone in honor of the late U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone. Only 15 people are needed to sign a petition seeking any name change, and such a petition triggers a public hearing.
The push for Bde Maka Ska comes after years of debate. The name, given to the lake by American Indians who lived there, was supplanted nearly 200 years ago when federal surveyors named the lake after Secretary of War John Calhoun, who authorized the building of Fort Snelling.
Calhoun, a South Carolinian who later became vice president and a U.S. senator, was an ardent supporter of slavery. His background prompted the Park Board to reconsider the lake's name.
Support for change has become part of a national trend to expunge place names that honor historical figures with views now seen as racist.
In the meantime, the Park Board has put up signs at the lake with both the names Calhoun and Bde Maka Ska. Officials have said that nearby streets named after Calhoun probably won't change.
This month, the Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association sent the County Board a resolution opposing removal of the Lake Calhoun name. The association argued that it is "embedded and deeply woven into the urban geography of our neighborhood" and others that encircle the lake, and that it is a part of the names of dozens of businesses, shopping centers, office buildings, apartment and condominium buildings, as well as neighborhood associations.
Before the hearing, resident Tom Austin submitted a petition with more than 300 people who live on or within a few blocks of Lake Calhoun who wanted the name to remain the same.
Arlene Fried was one of the few speaking Tuesday who opposed renaming the lake. A change would be costly and confusing, she said.
Lawrence Salzman, a longtime member of the Calhoun Yacht Club, argued that there are other ways to educate the community about the Dakota culture.
Many of those who did address the board spoke in Dakota, saying that renaming the lake is the best way to honor Dakota history.
"I've worked with many people in the Ojibwe, Dakota, Somali and immigrant community," said Barbara Olson. "The renaming can have a big part in telling everybody's story. It's time to do this."
Park Board Member Scott Vreeland talked about why the board voted to forward only Bde Maka Ska as a potential name, saying that decision followed many meetings and a lot of community input.
Harvey Zuckman, a member of the citizen's advisory committee that helped the Park Board reach its decision, said he was transformed during the process, and believes strongly that Calhoun doesn't deserve the honor. "We would name a lake after somebody who never stepped foot in the state?" he asked.
For many, the meeting was deeply emotional.
Carly Badheartbull said she purposely gave birth to her son at a center overlooking the lake, and that renaming it would be a step in restoring equity to the Dakota.
Commissioner Peter McLaughlin closed the meeting saying he appreciate everyone's passion.
"As the debate continues over the next weeks, it will be a historic revolution," he said.
David Chanen • 612-673-4465
naming the lake
BDE MAKA SKA, or Bdé Makhá Ská (White Earth Lake): Variations of a name championed by a family descended from Cloud Man, the leader of a short-lived Dakota village at the lake. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted in 2016 to return the name to the lake and has placed it on lake signs.
MDE MED’OZA, or Lake of the Loons: Another Indian name used in Warren Upham’s seminal “Minnesota Place Names,” published in 1920, referencing an 1881 publication. Considered for the lake by the Park Board in the 1800s but never adopted.
LAKE CALHOUN: Named by U.S. Army surveyors in the early 1800s for Secretary of War John Calhoun, a pro-slavery Southerner who authorized the construction of Fort Snelling and sent the surveyors to the area.
INLAND LAKE: Cited by the Dakota in missionary Samuel Pond’s 1893 book as a name used by the Indians.
LAKE WELLSTONE also has been proposed for the lake in honor of U.S. Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, who died in a plane crash in 2002.
Source: Star Tribune research