Battle of Bde Maka Ska isn’t over by a long shot

Even if you don’t agree with it, you have to acknowledge the Minneapolis Park Board’s response to the venture capitalist behind the effort to overturn the renaming of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska.

Last month, the Court of Appeals ruled the Department of Natural Resources didn’t have the authority to approve the name change request at the behest of the board and the Hennepin County Commissioners.

Tom Austin insists his drive isn’t indicative of his admiration for John C. Calhoun, the former vice president and secretary of war who designed the forced relocation of Native Americans from their land, even though he once asked in a newspaper ad “what good have the Dakota Indians done that is a positive contribution to Minnsota?”

He claimed the name brings back fond memories of his nearby lake, beach, and neighborhood.

The park board can’t change the name of the lake. But they can change the name of nearby entities he holds dear.

A park board committee will vote Wednesday on dumping the Calhoun name from parkways, parkland, roads and beach, the Star Tribune reports.

West Calhoun Boulevard, Calhoun Drive, East Lake Calhoun Parkway and West Lake Calhoun Parkway would disappear.

Austin’s new address could be Bde Maka Ska Parkway.

“The indigenous folks that have been in this area … called it Bde Maka Ska,” Commissioner Londel French told the newspaper. “That’s the name, and we want to make sure that the adjacent parkways, which we have total control over and total say over, reflect the name of the lake.”

“It’s probably something we should have done when we changed our signs out and when the DNR had restored the name of the lake,” park board President Brad Bourn added.

This is what local officials said they wouldn’t do when Lake Calhoun was renamed. It would be costly for businesses and confusing for residents. But it’s a tit-for-tat war now.

And it’s not a done deal. At least one commissioner has signaled she’s against the idea.

Still, French, who is black, makes a compelling argument that reveals Austin’s court victory isn’t the last shot fired.

“We walk on the streets with the names of people who oppressed us,” he said. “No other two groups I really think have to do that besides Native and black folk.”

  • Guest

    As a side note, I grew up being told the “meeting of two rivers” was Mendota not Bdote? When did that change?

    • Jerry

      It’s the same Dakota word, but I have heard that Bdote is the more accurate pronunciation.

    • Rob

      You could always do your own re-naming, and refer to Mendota/Bdote by its English translation: The Meeting Of Two Rivers.

  • Mike

    A modest proposal: perhaps the Park Board could focus on improving and sustaining the park system. I bet there’s no shortage of issues that need attention. But apparently that’s not as much fun as scorched-earth retribution. As a Minneapolis resident, I think the vast majority of our politicians are demented.

  • Guest

    I gotta admit somebody driving on Lake Calhoun Parkway is going to wonder where the heck is this Lake Calhoun I have been told about 🙂

  • Rob

    Kudos to the park board, but it’s a head-scratcher as to why the surrounding roadways weren’t renamed at the same time the lake’s name was changed…

    • Because of the expense and inconvenience for residents and businesses. They were trying to get buy in for the lake change and assuring residents/businesses that it wouldn’t expand. Now, all bets are off.

      • Rob

        Not sure how a gradual transition to the name change would cause major disruption.

  • A park board committee will vote Wednesday on dumping the Calhoun name from parkways, parkland, roads and beach

    That’s some top level passive-aggression right there. I’m impressed.

    /Maybe Mr. “What good have the Dakota Indians done” shouldn’t have picked this fight


  • AL287

    We are fighting another Civil War without guns and armies and it is going to destroy our democratic way of life.

    Mr. Austin’s insistence on keeping the name Lake Calhoun is in direct opposition to the removal of statues of Confederate generals from cities across the South as well as the removal of the Confederate flag from state capitols and governmental buildings.

    If the Deep South can admit the egregiousness of keeping those statues and flags on display, I see nothing wrong with restoring Native American names to lakes and other locations in Minnesota.

    This has nothing to do with “fond childhood memories” and everything to do with maintaining “white privilege”.

    FWIW, I am white and I am not proud of what is currently going on in America and that includes Minnesota, a Native American word meaning “sky-tinted” or “cloudy water.”

    • Barton

      Or Misty Water, which is my favorite translation.

  • J Allen

    If you check Google Maps, the name of the lake is Bde Maka Ska. See, it is written…

    • Kassie

      Same with Bdote. Google maps has it that way, so it is real!

  • jon

    No one should have the power to forcible re-write his memories!

    If that was the fight that he had chosen to fight, I think no one would have stood against him. (mostly because I don’t think that technology exists)

    Alas, instead he went off about the name of a lake.

  • Angry Jonny

    I’m rather fond of the notion of renaming St. Paul as Pig’s Eye. That has character.

    • halfpint

      One of the best local place names to say three times fast is Pig’s Eye Lake Park. Pig’s Eye has character, indeed!

  • Ralphy

    Is there a requirement that the park board post signage with the name of the lake? What would happen if the park board simply took down all the lake identification signs and only posted signs identifying park properties? Would windsurfers and fishers be completely lost?

  • me

    There isn’t a person alive today that isn’t both a decendant of a victim, and a decendant of an oppressor.

    This is just simple math and statistics, at some point in your maternal and paternal lines people were raped, murdered, and were rapists and murderers. There were racists, and victims of racism.

    This is all a futile exercise in hatred – hatred of others, hatred of self, hatred of history, and hatred of life – guised in being ‘woke’ and ‘fighting for justice’.

    • X.A. Smith

      That doesn’t make any sense to me. How so?

      • me

        Simple math. The population of the world is estimated to be around 5million 12000 years ago at the dawn of civilization. Today all 8 billion of us are decended from those 5 million people, after 12000 years of war, displaced populations, random crime, etc.

        Even if you take today’s (low) crime rates and cut them down 90%, it’s actually statistically impossible for you NOT to be a decendant of both a historical victim and a historical perp.

        • X.A. Smith

          No, I meant your third paragraph. How is fixing a mistake a futile exercise in hatred? How is acknowledging history, hatred of history?

          • me

            How can deliberate actions to remove historical figures from public recognition because of past political ideology be anything but?

            Love of history means accepting it, warts and all. Hiding it is clearly the opposite.

          • X.A. Smith

            Venerating someone who should be notorious is a mistake that is easily fixed. It’s not hiding history. Nobody’s burning books here. Naming the lake after Calhoun was done relatively recently, after all. It already had a name then.

          • me

            What was the Souix name? Or the tribes/ethnicities that came before Ojibwe? There have been at least 3 (4, if recent research is to be accepted) major migrations into North/South America.

            Aren’t we just arbitrarily picking a culture to champion over others?

          • X.A. Smith

            You are.

          • Jerry

            Taking away an honor does not remove someone from history. It just takes away the honor.

          • me

            It’s only an honor if you position it as such. To me he serves as a perfect opportunity to educate our youngsters that as we progress through history our society has adjusted and elevated our views on human rights to become better.

            Calhoun stands as a perfect example of how an obsession with honor, along with an agressively antagonistic view of other groups/societies, can fail a man and a country. He was instrumental into getting us our asses handed to us by the British in 1812, and he was very influential in the slavery politics that preceeded the civil war that almost destroyed our country.

            Remove his name from everything, and you’ll never hear about him again. And the lessons kids should be learning, simply won’t be learned.

          • RBHolb

            “Remove his name from everything, and you’ll never hear about him again.”

            One of the arguments against changing the name of the lake is that no one remembers who John C. Calhoun was, or why he was such a vile specimen, so what difference does it make? Clearly, the public has not been educated about him.

            In any event, I fail to see how naming a lake after someone, even if you don’t think of it as an “honor,” serves to educate anyone about anything.

          • me

            ” I fail to see how naming a lake after someone, even if you don’t think of it as an “honor,” serves to educate anyone about anything.”

            Then why bother renaming it, if it’s not going to do anything?

          • RBHolb

            Because the name is not meant as a way of educating the public.

          • Jerry

            He will still be in the history books. He will always have been secretary of war and vice-president. We don’t name lakes after people we loathe, it is an honor.

            The trend in history now is to bring to light our shameful past. That is why there are signs at Fort Snelling pointing out that it was a concentration camp, pointing out the slave quarters. That is how you don’t erase history, not by clinging to names.

          • It’s amazing that people think that history will be erased. If only that were true. Native Americans would be able to live on the land they owned rather than stuck in squalor in the middle of nowhere thanks to fraudulent treaties.

            That will always be John C. Calhoun’s legacy.

            It would be swell if simply naming a lake would erase any of that but the hissyfit that people are having over the name change shows how unlikely it’ll be that real history will be “erased”.

          • me

            The signs at Ft. Snelling are fantastic. Just waiting for someone to try to rename it…

            From what I understand we just ran out of names and Calhoun got a lake by default. But then, why not rename it after someone worthy? Wellstone?Prince? Joe Mauer? Why not name it the english translation of Bde Maka Ska?

          • Jerry

            It got its name because a surveyor was currying favor with his boss. And I hope a Minnesotan wouldn’t have trouble using a Native American word.

    • Kassie

      Nope. I’m white. My family has never been a victim of racism. Sure, maybe some ethnic discrimination, but not racism. But were my people racists? Bet your ass they were. Some still are.

      • me

        Way to miss the point. You’re ‘white’ now, but your ancesters were scots, or germans, or french, or cossack, or Romans, or Huns, or Rus, or Aryan, or any one of the hundreds/thousands of tribes of various ethnicitities over thousands of years that fought and killed and raped each other on their way to your general and short-lived definition of ‘white’