Minnesota Appeals Court Reverses Name Change for Lake

Boats on Lake Calhoun, also known as Bde Maka Ska, in 2017. (Photo via Wikipedia Commons)

ST. PAUL, Minn. (CN)—The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources lacked authority to change the controversial name of one of the most popular lakes in Minneapolis, the state appeals court ruled Monday.

The name of the largest lake in Minneapolis has been a contentious issue for many residents and visitors to the lake for better part of the last decade. Lake Calhoun was named in the 1830s after John C. Calhoun, a southerner who served as the U.S. secretary of war and approved the building of Fort Snelling in the Minneapolis area in 1817. He later went on to become the seventh vice president of the United States.

Calhoun was also a big advocate for slavery. He was a slave owner and wrote that liberty was not a universal right but rather “reserved for the intelligent, the patriotic, the virtuous and deserving.”

In 2015, after a shooting at a historically black church in Charleston, S.C., the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board sought to change the lake’s name to Bde Maka Ska—the name the Dakota Native Americans originally gave it, which in English means Lake White Earth.

The park board worked with the Hennepin County Board of Commissioners and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in its effort to rename the lake.

In May 2017, the city’s park board approved a 25-year master plan for the area after passing a resolution to change the signage around the lake to Bde Maka Ska.

But the Hennepin County attorney’s office told the board of commissions that based on state law, it “had no role in renaming a body of water whose name was in existence for more than 40 years,” according to court records.

A group called Save Lake Calhoun filed a petition showing that 318 of the 334 homeowners around the lake opposed renaming it. Despite its efforts, the county passed the renaming resolution in a 4-3 vote.

The homeowners took to court last year challenging the state government bodies’ authority to enact the change.

While the Ramsey County District Court found that Save Lake Calhoun had had standing to bring the petition, it granted the DNR’s motion to dismiss and found that the group “failed to establish an ongoing act necessary to obtain quo warranto relief.”

But the Minnesota Court of Appeal ruled Monday that the DNR exceeded its authority under state law when it renamed the lake, reiterating the Hennepin County attorney’s argument.

“The historical nature of chapter 83A from 1925 supports a reading of the statutory scheme which, unambiguously, denies authority for the DNR to change the name of a lake which has existed for 40 years,” wrote Judge Randall Slieter, an appointee of Democratic Governor Mark Dayton.

“The DNR’s assertion that its authority permits changing a lake is not expressed, or fairly drawn or fairly evident from the powers delegated to it within the statute’s context,” Slieter added.

Strong opposition to the court’s ruling was evident by a Tuesday morning message on the website savelakecalhoun.com stating, “Actually, it’s called Bde Maka Ska.”

According to Minnesota Public Radio, the website domain had expired and someone who is obviously not in favor of the Lake Calhoun name repurchased it.

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