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Supreme Court: DNR can change name of Lake Calhoun

Supreme Court: DNR can change name of Lake Calhoun
May 13, 2020 The Associated Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A divided Minnesota Supreme Court said Wednesday that the state Department of Natural Resources has the authority to change the name of a popular Minneapolis lake back to its original Dakota name, apparently resolving a long-running dispute involving neighbors who objected to the name change.

“This ruling acknowledges the history and value of Indigenous people. It’s an assist to parents and caregivers of Native kids trying to ensure our children grow up in a world that knows we have always been here,” tweeted Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Nation of Ojibwe.

“We’re still here. We will always be here,” Flanagan tweeted.

The state Court of Appeals ruled in April that the agency overstepped its authority in January 2018 when it changed the name to Bde Maka Ska (pronounced buh-DAY’ muh-KAH’-skah). Hennepin County asked the agency for the change because Lake Calhoun was named for pro-slavery former Vice President John Calhoun.

The state appeals court ruled that such authority rested with the Legislature under statutes governing lake and other place names. However, Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug, writing for the majority of five justices, said the Department of Natural Resources commissioner has the statutory authority to change the name.

Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote on behalf of her and Justice G. Barry Anderson in dissent and said the decision gives “unbounded power” to the department to change the name of every lake in Minnesota at any time.

Save Lake Calhoun attorney Erick Kaardal had argued that the Legislature enacted a policy that says lake names that have been used more than 40 years cannot be changed without lawmakers granting additional authority.

Kaardal told the Star Tribune the ruling is “sort of the end of the road.”

In a statement, the Department of Natural Resources said it was important that state and local governments “be able to work together to address confusing, unsettled, or derogatory names.” With the ruling, the agency said, “under Minnesota law, the body of water that was Lake Calhoun is now Bde Maka Ska.”


Featured image: The Dakota name for the lake, “Bde Maka Ska,” means White Earth Lake. Photo from Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board.

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