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Rename Calhoun? Most at meeting say yes

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People walk and bike the trails of Lake Calhoun.
People walk and bike the trails around Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The Hennepin County Board could decide later this year whether to recommend changing  the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska. Supporters of the move say it's wrong to honor John C. Calhoun, the nation's seventh vice president, because he was an ardent supporter of slavery and he drafted the Indian Removal Act.  

Dozens of people spoke at a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday night.

  The first governmental body to sign off on renaming Lake Calhoun was the Minneapolis Park Board. After months of hearings and public input sessions, they voted unanimously in May to call the lake Bde Maka Ska, which means White Banks Lake in the Dakota language.

Now the proposal is in the hands of the Hennepin County Board. Dakota historian Kate Beane has been one of the most vocal supporters of what she calls restoring the lake's indigenous name.

At the hearing, Beane said having John Calhoun's name on the lake contributes to the historical erasure of the Dakota people and glorifies a 19th century politician who oppressed both Native Americans and African Americans.

"This man was not just in favor of slavery, he promoted it. He was not just in favor of indigenous genocide, he actively contributed to it by drafting the Indian Removal Act," Beane argued.

Harvey Zuckman, 66, grew up in Minneapolis and still lives near the lake, said he never understood why it was named for someone not connected to Minnesota. Zuckman said he only learned about the area's Dakota history, and that of John Calhoun, when he served on a park board community advisory committee. Zuckman said calling the lake Bde Maka Ska is a matter of equity.

The sun shines on the sailboat dock on Lake Calhoun.
The sun shines on the sailboat dock on Lake Calhoun in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

"I really think it speaks to any number of disenfranchised populations in our community," Zuckman said. "It tells everyone this is a place for everyone. You are welcome here."

Of the roughly 30 people who testified Tuesday night, only a half dozen spoke against removing Calhoun's name, but Linden Hills neighborhood resident Tom Austin said most people who live near the lake want the name Calhoun to remain.

Over the summer, Austin knocked on doors and surveyed around 350 people. He said the vast majority signed a petition against renaming the lake. 

"There are a lot of ways to show support for the Indian community," he said. But changing the name "is a poke in the eye of over 90 percent of the people who live in the lakes area."

The Cedar-Isles-Dean Neighborhood Association passed a resolution last month against renaming Lake Calhoun. The group said the name is deeply woven into the area's geography, and is part of the names of dozens of buildings and businesses.

Lawrence Saltzman, who was director of the Lake Calhoun Sailing School for nearly 30 years, fears the school and associated yacht club could lose their widespread brand recognition.  He believes signs the park board installed in 2015 that include both names are sufficient to represent the area's Dakota heritage. 

The Hennepin County Board will accept written testimony on the name change until Friday, Oct. 20. Commissioner Peter McLaughlin said he expects there'll be a vote on the issue before the end of the year. 

If the county board approves the name change, the next step would be to get approval from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The U.S. Board of Geographic Names would have the final word.

Correction (Oct. 18, 2017): Harvey Zuckman's name was misspelled and his age was incorrect in an earlier version of this article. The amount of days left in the comment period was also incorrect. The story has been updated.