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Mpls. Park Board moves toward renaming Calhoun streets near lake

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Minneapolis Park and Recreation board started process to rename streets.
The Minneapolis Park and Recreation board has started the process to rename streets surrounding Bde Maka Ska, also known as Lake Calhoun. West Calhoun Boulevard is among the four streets that would be lose the name Calhoun.
Matt Sepic | MPR

The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board has launched another volley in the battle over what to call a south Minneapolis lake. The commissioners are poised to rename four streets around Bde Maka Ska even though the name of the lake itself remains in dispute. 

The park board voted two years ago to call Lake Calhoun Bde Maka Ska. Those backing what they say is a restoration of the lake's Dakota name say the move helps preserve the area's indigenous heritage and respect the Dakota language. Moreover they wanted the name of 19th century Vice President John C. Calhoun gone. 

The South Carolinian was a full-throated defender of slavery and an architect of the Indian Removal Act. 

The Hennepin County Board, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, and an obscure federal agency, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, all approved the change. But last month, the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed with opponents that the DNR had exceeded its authority.

While renaming the body of water has proved to be a complex legal and political process involving all three branches of government, renaming parks and the streets around them is the purview of the park board.

A board committee voted unanimously Wednesday to replace the name Calhoun with Bde Maka Ska on Calhoun Boulevard West, Calhoun Drive, and East and West Lake Calhoun parkways. The park surrounding the lake would also be renamed.

Commissioner Jono Cowgill praised the people who'd been advocating for the removal of Calhoun's name. 

"It is a testament to our ability as a community to push for progress, even in the face of continued attempts to undercut a name that has the true historical markers of the state of Minnesota, which is Bde Maka Ska," Cowgill said.

Kate Beane, a Dakota historian, was among those pressing for the change. She said the appeals court ruling on the lake's name was disheartening, but she was glad to see so many people at Wednesday night's meeting speak out in support of renaming the streets. 

"Our history here is so incredibly important. And everyone's history here is important. And I think it's important for the public to understand that we as Dakota people are simply asking to be recognized and respected," Beane said.

The name change had strong support among those in attendance at the committee meeting. But Arlene Fried, a long-time regular at park board meetings, opposes changing both the name of the lake and the streets. Fried said many Minneapolis residents have strong personal associations with the lake, regardless of its namesake. 

"When I think of sailing on Lake Calhoun, I sailed on Lake Calhoun. I didn't sail on lake Bde Maka Ska. And I will always think of sailing on Lake Calhoun. And that's my personal history, and I believe that's significant," Fried said.

The park board board begins gathering public comments on the proposal Thursday through an online survey. The board also will send notices in the mail to everyone who lives within three blocks of the affected streets ahead of a public hearing later in the summer.