Who Gets to Decide on the Names of Places?  

This May, the Supreme Court of Minnesota decided the Department of Natural Resources could change this lake’s name from Lake Calhoun to Lake Bde Maka Ska.

Minnesota is sometimes called the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” There are actually more than 11,000 lakes in Minnesota. The name of one of those lakes, near Minneapolis, Minnesota, has caused disagreements. 

Long before Europeans settled in the area that is now Minneapolis, the Dakota people lived there. They are Native Americans and called the lake Bde Maka Ska (Biday Maka-Ska). The name means “White Earth Lake” or “White Bank Lake.”  

In 1817, a US Army group came to the lake. They renamed it after the Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun. Secretary Calhoun supported slavery. He believed the White race was superior to other races. In 2017, residents in Minneapolis questioned if they should keep the name the lake “Calhoun.” They did not want to celebrate his beliefs.   

In 2017, the Minneapolis Park Board voted to change the name. They wanted to honor the Dakota people. They restored the name to Bde Maka Ska. The Department of Natural Resources oversees Minnesota’s natural resources. They changed the name for the Minneapolis Park Board. 

Some people did not like the name change. They were used to calling it Lake Calhoun. They argued that the Department of Natural Resources could not just change the names of lakes without a vote. People who lived near the lake sued [made an argument in court] the department. A district court agreed with them. They said the state legislature needed to change the name. The state legislature is a group of people who are elected to make laws in Minnesota.  

The Department of Natural Resources asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to reverse the decision. On May 13, 2020, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of the name change. The lake is once again called Bde Maka Ska. 

What Do You Think? Why is it important to know who decides the names of places? 

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