It is easier to take down a statue of a Confederate general than to change the name of a lake. Minneapolis is contemplating changing the name of Lake Calhoun. (More)

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John C. Calhoun

sent the Army to survey the area that would surround Fort Snelling in 1817. Calhoun had also authorized the construction of Fort Snelling, one of the earliest Euro-American settlements in the state. The surveyors renamed the water body “Lake Calhoun” in his honor.

He also served as Secretary of War and was Vice President from 1825 to 1832. He was from South Carolina and pro-slavery and a slave owner. Yale College from which Calhoun graduated has removed his name from one of their buildings because of his history.

The Dakota originally called the lake Mde Maka Ska (modern spelling Bde Maka Ska, pronunciation: b-DAY’ mah-kah skah meaning White Earth Lake, a name that probably was given by the Ioway who inhabited the area until the 16th century. Another Dakota name for the lake may have been Mde Med’oza, which was the name initially adopted by settlers, either as Lake Medoza or in translation as Loon Lake.

In May the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board voted unanimously to change the name to Bde Make Ska and the lake has new signage.

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.

The neighbors and businesses near the lake are not all in favor of the name change. Most did not know of Calhoun’s racist views or his reputation for poorly treating his slaves. Most before this all started in 2011 probably hadn’t given it a moments thought.

Contrast their views with a young Dakota woman, Kate Beane who said,

“The lake is not a brand; the water is sacred,” she said. “It’s time we are consulted on changes. Please respect our wishes.”

This is a long process and the city and state are holding public meetings that are well attended. The people opposed to the change are not participating in the meetings as much as those who want the change.

I swam in Lake Calhooun and sailed there in high school. I was at first startled to learn of John Calhoun’s role in our state and nation’s history. I have come around to being in favor in the name change. It is much easier to remove a staue than to rename a lake. Who knew?

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