Native Ways Federation executive director Carly Bad Heart Bull was among the leaders of a five-year-long effort to restore the lake’s name to honor its Native heritage instead of South Carolinian John C. Calhoun. As Bad Heart Bull Bull points out, the former vice president was an active advocate for slavery, led the charge to displace tribes from their Native lands and likely “never set foot in Minnesota.”
The lake is known as Bde Maka Ska, which means “White Earth Lake” in the Dakota language. In the 1830s, Bad Heart Bull’s ancestors lived in an agricultural village, Heyate Otunwe (“Village to the Side”), located at the lake.
“Up until the name restoration, there wasn’t a lot of public knowledge about (the village), there wasn’t an acknowledgment of our presence at Bde Maka Ska, there was very little, if any acknowledgment of Indigenous history at all in this place, which is an issue,” she said.
Working with her sister, Minnesota Historical Society historian Dr. Kate Beane, Bad Heart Bull said the name restoration idea moved into action while serving on a Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board community committee.
The Department of Natural Resources approved the new name in 2018 after hearing recommendations from general counsel Sherry Enzler and former senior staff attorney Fiona Ruthven. A few months after the DNR’s approval, an ad-hoc citizens group, Save Lake Calhoun, brought a lawsuit challenging the DNR’s decision. Solicitor General Liz Kramer and assistant attorney general Christina Brown argued and won the Supreme Court case.
“We live in such a divisive society where so many of our issues are directly connected to the disconnection between people from one another and from the land,” said Bad Heart Bull. “This effort brought people together around our common love for this place.”
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