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What's in a name? History, tradition and pain

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People walk and bike the trails of Lake Calhoun.
People walk and bike the trails around Lake Calhoun, also known by its Dakota name Bde Maka Ska, meaning White Earth Lake, in Minneapolis on Tuesday, Oct. 17, 2017.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Late last week, regents at the University of Minnesota voted 10-1 not to change the names of four campus buildings associated with leaders whose records had been tarnished by charges of racism or anti-Semitism. The name changes had been recommended by a committee appointed by University President Eric Kaler. Some members of the faculty and student body greeted the regents' vote with derision.

The committee had concluded that the university should not continue to honor former leaders who, for example, excluded black students from campus housing. The regents were divided over how to respond to such abuses; some felt the blame properly lay with their predecessors on earlier Boards of Regents. 

Only one regent, Abdul Omari, wanted to remove the names completely. Regent Peggy Lucas  said she was voting to keep the building names intact to preserve the university's controversial history. Omari and Lucas joined MPR News host Angela Davis to explain their votes and discuss the future of their divided campus. 

Across town, a prized urban lake is at the center of a different name-change controversy. Records show that settlers in the area called it Lake Calhoun as long ago as the early 1820s.  John C. Calhoun was a secretary of war and a vice president, as well as a proponent of slavery and of Native American removal. Before the settlers arrived, the lake was known by its Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska. In 2018 the state Department of Natural Resources made the decision to return it to its original Dakota name, but on Monday the state Court of Appeals said the DNR lacked the authority to do so. The DNR has said it plans to take the battle to the state Supreme Court. 

Davis spoke with two guests about the court battle and history of the lake. Erick Kaardal is the lawyer representing Save Lake Calhoun in court. Kate Beane is a public historian and citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe.

 Use the audio player above to listen to the show.