Lake Calhoun or Bde Maka Ska: Who’s in charge here?

When the Minnesota Court of Appeals decided last week that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources lacked the authority to approve changing Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, the last line of my post on the subject contained an important piece of information that went mostly unnoticed:

Because Lake Calhoun as a name existed for more than 40 years, the Court of Appeals said the DNR lacked the power to change it, while noting, too, that the Legislature provided no mechanism for changing the name of a lake that’s existed for more than 40 years.

In the aftermath of the decision, much of the discussion suggested it’s now up to the Legislature to determine whether the name should be changed.

One problem: it’s not.

The Legislature can’t. It’s right there in the Minnesota Constitution, Article 12, Section 1:

The legislature shall pass no local or special law authorizing the laying out, opening, altering, vacating or maintaining of roads, highways, streets or alleys; remitting fines, penalties or forfeitures; changing the names of persons, places, lakes or rivers

In an op-ed in Tuesday’s Star Tribune, DNR commissioner Sarah Strommen says this is the problem that must now be decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

If the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board can’t change the name, if the Hennepin County Board can’t change the name, if the DNR can’t change the name, and if the Minnesota Legislature can’t change the name, who can change the name?

The DNR recognizes that Minnesotans have deeply held perspectives regarding the names Bde Maka Ska and Lake Calhoun. I also understand that Minnesotans have a variety of opinions on the appropriate process for renaming geographic features. However, as the commissioner of DNR, my job is to implement the law as I understand it.

While I do not welcome spending limited agency resources on a Supreme Court appeal, there are fundamental legal questions raised in the ruling that go well beyond the naming of an individual lake. It is my responsibility to seek clarity from Minnesota’s highest court in this instance.

    • Barton

      I do love this so much.

  • Rob

    Sad to think this is going to come down to a rock/paper/scissors situation. Or maybe drawing names out of a hat.

    Even if the name Bde Maka Ska doesn’t prevail, that’s what I’m calling it.

  • jon

    “changing the names of persons, places, lakes or rivers”

    So they can’t pass a law changing the name of a person, Yet when I got married my wife changed her name via a process that i presume is governed by the laws passed by the legislature…

    Moreover they passed the law saying the DNR could change the name of the lake with in 40 years…

    So while the Legislature can’t pass a law that changes a name, they seem to be very capable of passing a law that creates a process for changing names, and delegating that authority.

    They could pass a law allowing the name to be changed by the DNR… they’ve already done that but there was a 40 year limit on that… so they could instead of passing legislation naming the lake, pass legislation granting the DNR the authority to change the name without the 40 year part of the rule.

    • Correct . The Legislature delegates the authority. The Legislature is not the authority.

    • Rob

      The state didn’t change your wife’s name; she did. The state merely acknowledged and accepted the change. But yes, it sounds like the way forward is for the legislature to authorize the DNR to have the power to change lake names.

      • I’d be curious to know why “40” was picked as the cutoff .

        • Rob

          As would I. Wonder if the rationale is buried deep within the legislative history?

        • RBHolb

          I’m not sure if this is the reason or if it’s even related, but the statute of limitations on lawsuits affecting the ownership of land is 40 years.

    • amiller92

      They already passed a law allowing the DNR to change duplicate lake names with no time limit. The Supreme Court just needs to correct the Court of Appeal’s interpretation, which is not consistent with the plain language of the statute.

  • Barton

    Anything that includes “deeply held beliefs” is using going to piss me off. And I’m on the side of Ms Strommen.

    It feels like such a dog-whistle to regressive practices

  • Guest

    That clause is pretty standard. Those who wrote the MN or US Constitution did not want “one-shot” laws passed granting an exception. This is what the rule of law rather than men is all about.

    Now setting up a process on whose call it is to change a name used for over 40 years, THAT is what the existing law is asking for.

    • I suspect this is another rather typical case in which the Legislature made a move without properly considering its ramifications when it combined two laws as Strommen points out.

      Of course, with less than two weeks to go before the end of the session, we’re seeing more haphazard, last minute, legislating that will serve to keep the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court busy for years to come.

      • Randall Thompson

        There used to be several “Squaw” lakes in this state. The names were (rightfully) changed awhile ago. What was the process used there? Seems like something can be done in this similar instance.

        • jon

          I’m guessing the DNR used the same process that they used for Bde Maka Ska…

          A process that the court says they didn’t have the authority for.

          Those lakes name changes should probably also be called into question as much as Bde Maka Ska, if they had the previous name for 40 years, and the court ruling is upheld.

          I suspect that Bde maka ska is the only case that came before the courts and presented the argument that the DNR didn’t have the authority.

          • Randall Thompson

            OK, I’m not in favor of the DNR having autonomy on the naming issue, but can we have an agreement? Holy cow, somebody should put it on a ballot and have the people decide, not the court system or the legislature, or the DNR.

          • jon

            I’d much prefer the DNR under the guidelines they were provided by the legislature and their own internal guidelines…

            Letting people vote for a name is how you get “Boaty McBoatface.”

          • Randall Thompson

            I had not thought of that. Thanks for that insight.

          • Randall Thompson

            Although “Boaty McBoatface is WAY FUNNY”!

          • Lakey McLakeface.

          • jon

            I was thinking instead of all the “round” and “long” lakes out there, we’d have a bunch of “wet” lakes.

  • Nicholas Kraemer

    The last line of Section 1 reads: “The inhibitions of local or special laws in this section shall not prevent the passage of general laws on any of the subjects enumerated.” I am not a lawyer, but it seems like the 40 year rule would be a general law as it applies to all lakes, etc.

  • StinkWink69

    Can we just call it “White Earth Lake”? Most of the objection to the name change was idiots who cant pronounce it.

    • Kassie

      No, we can’t. Because that’s not the name. If you can pronounce Wayzata, Nokomis, and Bemidji, you can pronounce Bde Maka Ska.

      • StinkWink69

        Why? Cuz you say so? I think it’s a good compromise.

        Bde Maka Ska isn’t its name either. And its nookomis, not Nokomis, but it’s not even that because I’m sure the Ojibwe didn’t use the English alphabet.

        Can we write the name in Ojibwe on the sign and UNDER it write “White Earth Lake”?

    • RBHolb

      Most of the objection to the name change was driven by idiots who are afraid of ceding anything even remotely related to white privilege (here, the privilege to dictate our history). Pronunciation had nothing to do with it.

      • StinkWink69

        You mean like the white privilege in translating it to the English alphabet to spell Bde Maka Ska? How is this offence any different than translating the meaning to English? How is changing it’s written name to English different from its spoken name? Are you in favor of marginalizing the written tradition of the Ojibwe people?

        Can we write the name in Ojibwe on the sign and UNDER it write “White Earth Lake”?

        • RBHolb

          It’s transliteration, not translation. Since the Ojibwe had no written language (outside of hieroglyphs whose meanings are sacred and thus not explained to outsiders), putting the words into Roman letters is the only way to record those words.

          • StinkWink69

            Really? I wonder what chart I downloaded to look at the Ojibwe alphabet then. The point remains whether they will disclose the symbols or not is irrelevant to the fact that the offence is the same. I guess we just dont have signs.

          • RBHolb

            Look up the difference between “translation” and “transliteration.”

            Jerry notes correctly that Bde Maka Ska is Dakota. The Dakota also had no indigenous alphabet.

            [Cue tiresome lines about who the true original inhabitants really are.]

          • StinkWink69

            Nitpicking, irrelevant. You clearly understood what I was saying or you couldn’t have corrected it. The points remain. The only answer is to simply continue the oral tradition and not have signs, anything else is the same offence as translating the name to English.

          • RBHolb

            You’re trolling, so this is the last I will have to say on the subject: transliteration is not the same as translation. Not by a long shot.

          • StinkWink69

            Not trolling, never said it was the same. I said you knew what I meant and you are nitpicking irrelevant things to avoid the points.

          • Jerry

            Also, the name is in the Dakota language, not Ojibwe

          • StinkWink69

            Lol, that makes this conversation and my point so much better. Where did I get Ojibwe from? Oh I know from RBholb mentioning several Ojibwe names, and me checking his/her privilege by looking up Nokomis and finding that its nookomis.

    • There objection wasn’t really that they couldn’t pronounce it, even if they said that was their reason.

    • Jerry

      It’s phonetic. It’s pronounced like it is spelled.

  • Zachary Mott

    I’m not a lawyer, but it seems to me that this constitutional provision applies to special legislation. That is, the legislature can’t pass a law that says “Lake Calhoun shall be renamed to Bde Maka Ska.”

    But they can still still pass a law that lays out a general process for changing the name of a lake when the current name has stood for more than 40 years, and then that process could be used to change the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska.

    • amiller92

      Or we can avoid all that by reading the statute as written,which does not place a time limit on when the DNR Commissioner can change a name to remove duplication.

  • AL287

    “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

    —-from Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

  • PaulMN

    So, was it a majority of the state’s population that wanted to change the name to Bde Maka Ska? Or was it again some small politically correct special interest group that prompted the name change?

  • Hans Mouritzen

    Couldn’t we just go back to the old name and then move on to something of real importance?

    • The name debate is nothing more than a proxy for a bigger concern for these people: the sense that they’re losing majority status in a white culture and all the perks that go with that. In the big picture, these are dishonest debates because they’re not really about names or signs.

  • amiller92

    Right, which is one reason why the Court of Appeals panel decision was odd. It ignored the specific words of 83A.02, which do not refer to the 83A.05 process that contains the time limit, to conclude that the legislature meant to reserve a power to itself that it does not have.

  • D.Robot

    Regardless of who can change the name, I think a good name for a lake includes the word “lake” in it.