MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — An appeals court in Minnesota has ruled that former DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr did not have the authority to change the name of Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis back to its Dakota name of Bde Maka Ska.
The court ruled on Monday; a three-judge panel unanimously ruled that only the Legislature would have had the authority to change it.
The lake is part of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, and a popular place to walk, fish and sail. The Minneapolis lake was declared Bde Maka Ska – the Dakota words meaning “white earth lake” – last summer, amid a contentious political battle.
In January, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources announced their decision to favor the change of name, after the push to change the lake’s name to its Dakota name worked its way down the long path of civic bodies.
Supporters of the name change say former vice president John Calhoun was a staunch supporter of slavery and helped establish Fort Snelling. The lake had been called Lake Calhoun since the mid-1800s.
A group called “Save Lake Calhoun” argued the Minnesota DNR commissioner did not have the authority to change the name, and on Monday, the state Court of Appeals agreed, saying because the name was in place for more than 40 years, only the state legislature can change it.
“The DNR commissioner chose the route of violating the law when the law said he could only change the name of a lake that has been used less than 40 years and Lake Calhoun has been used for more than 40 years … like 150 years,” attorney Eric Kaardal said.
Signs around the lake have already been changed to reflect the Dakota name. In 2015, before any legal name change happened, the parks board did add Bde Maka Ska to the signs around the lake. The decision on what they’ll read going forward won’t be made for 30 more days.
“John C. Calhoun has a legacy that not too many people in this city want to honor anymore,” public historian Dr. Kate Beane said. “He created the Indian Removal Act, and that removal act led to the displacement and death of thousands of indigenous people, including the Cherokee Trail of Tears. This is not somebody who’s legacy we want in our city, and I think that the park board, the mayor, the city and the state and federal have agreed that a process was followed.”
Supporters of Bde Maka Ska say the name brings people together. They say they were blindsided by Monday’s court decision, but they believe the fight isn’t over.
“I think more of us want to see this recognized, officially recognized, as Bde Maka Ska,” Carly Bad Heart Bull said. “We spent nearly three years working on the name restoration and in those three years what we found is we had overwhelming support.”
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board said they have no plans to change the signage and they are encouraging the DNR to appeal this ruling.
The DNR now has 30 days to petition the state Supreme Court to review Monday’s decision.
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board President Brad Bourn released a statement regarding the ruling.
“The most beautiful lake in Minneapolis has been called Bde Maka Ska for generations before white settlers stole it from the Dakota. It will continue to be Bde Maka Ska for generations to come.
I take heart in the fact that every democratically elected body and the Commissioner of the DNR has supported the name restoration.
While it saddens me that 318 property ‘owners’ on stolen Dakota land around Bde Maka Ska calling themselves ‘Save Lake Calhoun’ have prevailed at this stage, I know that we’re standing on the right side of history and that its arc bends towards justice.
In the meantime, as president of the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, I have no intention of spending any public resources honoring Vice President John C. Calhoun’s blood-soaked legacy of systemic violence against all our communities.”