The Minneapolis Park Board is pressing ahead with plans to rename four streets around Bde Maka Ska, also known as Lake Calhoun. The move comes despite legal uncertainty over the name of the lake itself.
The Park Board wants to replace the name “Calhoun” with “Bde Maka Ska” on East and West Lake Calhoun Parkways, Calhoun Boulevard West, and Calhoun Drive.
The arguments are now familiar to many in Minneapolis. The 19th century U.S. Vice President John C. Calhoun was an architect of the Indian Removal Act, thought slavery was a positive good, and had no connection to Minnesota.
Supporters of the name change also say Bde Maka Ska honors indigenous people; the words mean White Banks Lake in the Dakota language.
In recent years, three governmental bodies signed off on changing the lake’s name. But in April, the Minnesota Court of Appeals sided with plaintiffs in a lawsuit, and ruled that the state Department of Natural Resources had exceeded its authority.
But that ruling does not affect the street names, which are within the Park Board’s purview. The agency says 57 percent of people who responded to a recent request for public comment support renaming the streets; 35 percent oppose it.
More than a dozen people commented in person. Most have addresses that would be affected, and they all oppose the change.
John Berestka, who lives on West Calhoun Boulevard, said switching to West Bde Maka Ska Boulevard would be a hassle.
“Please consider the cost and the time that would be required to make this name change of the parkway. New driver’s licenses, new passport, new professional licenses,” he said.
Berestka told commissioners spelling and pronouncing the name is a hardship. He proposed simply dropping “Calhoun” from the street names but not adding “Bde Maka Ska.” Other opponents said the plan is undemocratic and the time and resources would be better spent elsewhere.
But those comments drew a sharp rebuke from Park Commissioner LaTrisha Vetaw. She says Calhoun’s name is an affront to her personally as a descendant of enslaved people.
“I know that a lot of you feel like it’s going to be challenging to change addresses. But guess what was extremely challenging? Slavery. Guess what is even more challenging: living as a black person in this world that was built on slavery,” Vetaw said.
The Park Board is expected to take a final vote on the plan Aug. 21. The board has not set a timeline for changing the street signs.
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