Campaign to Change Lake Calhoun’s Name Revived

The following article by Sarah McKenzie was published in the June 22, 2015 issue of the Southwest Journal and updated on June 23.

Campaign to Change Lake Calhoun’s Name Revived

Photo by Sarah McKenzie

In the wake of the shooting massacre at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., a campaign to change the name of Lake Calhoun has been revived.

A petition is circulating at calling for the name change. The lake is named after John C. Calhoun, a South Carolina politician who was a staunch supporter of slavery. He was vice president from 1825-1832.

As of Tuesday morning, the petition had more than 2,100 signatures.

Mike Spangenberg of Minneapolis started the petition and wrote Calhoun’s “name and legacy should not be honored anywhere.”

“In the wake of the tragic white supremacist terrorist attack in Charleston, S.C., it is critical that we actively reject white supremacy and all symbols thereof,” he said. “While changing the name of a lake will not, in itself, bring an end to injustice, it can and should be an important step in an ongoing effort to confront our nation’s past and to end systemic racism and oppression today.”

Minneapolis Park Board Commissioner Brad Bourn and former Park Board Commissioner Mary Merrill Anderson are also pushing for the name change.

On his Facebook page, Bourn wrote: “Too often “leadership” in the white community says that conversations about race are red herrings or distractions from “real issues” then are silent when something like this happens again and again. Conversations about race should be at the forefront of every public policy discussion, large or small.”

A campaign to rename the lake stalled in 2011 when it was determined the Park Board didn’t have the authority to change it on its own. It requires state approval.

The lake was originally called “Mde Maka Ska” by the Dakota, which translated to White Earth Lake.

Surveyors renamed it Lake Calhoun after Calhoun, then U.S. Secretary of War, sent the Army to survey the area around Fort Snelling in 1817.

Then in 1890, the Minneapolis Park Board passed a resolution recognizing the lake as Mendoza — a reference to the Dakota word for loon (though in Dakota it would be spelled Medoza). Despite the Park Board’s actions, the name never stuck.

To move forward, the Park Board would likely have to pass a resolution in support of the name change and work with the state Department of Natural Resources and Legislature to proceed with an official name change, Bourn said.

He added he’d like to see discussion about renaming Calhoun be part of discussions for a 20-year master plan for the lake.

Sharon Browning, a Kingfield resident, said she agrees that the name should be changed, but understands the “daunting challenge” that would result from the logistics of proceeding with a change.

“I still think it should be done, but the public (myself included) has to do more to support such a move beyond liking Internet news articles, such as contacting park, city and state representatives,” she said. “It’s good to put the issue out to the public, though. I hope this issue doesn’t just fade away.”

Mary Aho, an East Calhoun resident, said a name change could have unintended consequences.

“Personally, I think all the controversy trying to change the name will inevitably result in giving far more power to the dead racist then simply allowing people to forget anything about him except his name,” she said. “I’m sure somewhere there’s also a ‘Caligula Street’ but nobody cares that he was a deranged murderer when they use the street.”