MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A ruling by the Minnesota Supreme Court Wednesday means the Bde Maka Ska lake name in Minneapolis will stand.
According to the supreme court, former DNR commissioner Tom Landwehr had the authority to change the name of the lake, formerly Lake Calhoun, back to its original Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska.
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” – in 2018, amid a contentious political battle.
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.
The Minnesota DNR released a statement on the decision Wednesday afternoon:
The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources is pleased that the Minnesota Supreme Court has concluded that we acted within our statutory authority in renaming Lake Calhoun as Bde Maka Ska.
The Court affirmed the DNR’s long-standing exercise of its authority to work with local governments on the renaming of waterbodies and other geographic features. We welcome this decision, as it is important that the state and local governments be able to work together to address confusing, unsettled, or derogatory names.
In this instance, the Hennepin County Board fully considered a wide range of public input and made a reasonable determination.
The DNR’s job was to evaluate whether the Board followed procedural requirements and whether Bde Maka Ska met state naming conventions. We concluded “yes” on both counts and approved the renaming. With today’s decision from the Minnesota Supreme Court, “under Minnesota law, the body of water that was Lake Calhoun is now Bde Maka Ska.”
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison celebrated the court’s decision on Wednesday, saying it reflects Minnesota’s values in the 21st Century.
“Minnesotans no longer celebrate slavery and genocide,” he said, in a statement. “The people of Minneapolis and the DNR commissioner chose to remove Calhoun’s name from the lake to alleviate the pain of that history and celebrate instead the dignity of those who originally named the lake.”
Additionally, Ellison said that the decision confirms that there’s a reliable mechanism leaders can use to rename places that are linked to racism in the past.