It's final: Lake Calhoun is now Bde Maka Ska, named in honor of original Minnesotans

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Syd Beane, a descendant of the Dakota villagers who first settled Lake Bde Maka Ska, drills in a new sign to officially recognize an old name.

It’s final. Minneapolis Parks and Rec has torn down the old Lake Calhoun signs and drilled in new ones bearing Bde Maka Ska.

First thing Monday, the DNR updated the State Register to reflect Hennepin County’s recent resolution to phase out Calhoun. To make the name stick at the federal level, the U.S. Board of Geographic Names still has to approve the change, but as far as Minnesota (and Google Maps) is concerned, the years-long process to restore the original Dakota name of the state’s most popular lake has drawn to a close.

Later in the morning, the many Dakota advocates, Park Board commissioners, city council members, county officials, and state legislators who played in role in lifting the campaign across the finish line gathered on the frozen shore of Bde Maka Ska.

There, Dakota elders prayed and sang a song of gratitude, while the descendants of Heyata Otunwe, the Indian village established at the lake in the 1830s, reflected on their long slog through bureaucratic hurdles and reactionary movements to slowly persuade the Minneapolis public to come around on a deceptively complicated name change.

“Our community has been advocating for this change for many, many years,” said Dakota historian Kate Beane, who along with her twin sister Carly Bad Heart Bull and father Syd Beane, has appeared at countless public forums over the past two years to tell and retell the saga of how Minnesota’s native Dakota people were interned at Fort Snelling following the War of 1862, executed en masse, and exiled from the state in order to illustrate the case for restoring the memory of this largely forgotten chapter in history.

“Our language is here,” she said. “The legacy of our grandparents and their resiliency and their strength and generosity will always be remembered. We’ve always been here. We never left.”

Politicians who backed the family’s uphill crusade, including Parks superintendent Jayne Miller, Park Board members Brad Bourne and Scott Vreeland, city council members Cam Gordon and Jacob Frey, Hennepin County commissioners Marion Greene and Peter McLaughlin, and legislators Scott Dibble and Frank Hornstein were also in attendance.

“This is my happiest moment from my last 8 years on the Minneapolis Park Board,” said Bourne, who was recently named Park Board president.

“Like the land we are standing on right now is stolen land, the name of our most beloved lake in the city was stolen. … This name restoration today is literally the least we could do toward making reparations for communities of color that we have perpetuated violence against.”

Though all the signs at Bde Maka Ska have now been updated, surrounding streets named Calhoun will not change.

Parks and Rec has begun work on a public art installaton along the lake that will provide information on Heyata Otunwe and commemorate the contributions of the Dakota people who lived there.

 


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