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MN Expert Sees Growing Movement to Honor American Indians

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Friday, November 15, 2019   

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota Supreme Court heard arguments this week about a controversial name change involving a Minneapolis lake. The change was made to better reflect American Indian history, and one local historian says more of these actions can be expected.

The name change – from Lake Calhoun to its original Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska – is one of several recent examples of an iconic place or building considered for re-naming in honor of Native Americans. University of Minnesota history professor David Chang, who studies indigenous people, says getting influential leaders to listen has been a turning point.

"The drive originally comes from, and still foundationally comes from, the American Indian community,” says Chang. “But has been joined by many other folks who are very sympathetic to the goal of having names better reflect the land."

Following a petition, the state Department of Natural Resources last year decided on the name change.

Supporters of the change felt naming the lake for 1800s politician John C. Calhoun was offensive because of his policies towards American Indians. But a group opposed to the change says the agency overstepped its power, and is asking the court to intervene.

Chang says the decision in Minneapolis is significant because the lake is the largest in the city and has a notable legacy. On a national scale, he says efforts to rename Mount McKinley to Mount Denali – which trace back to the 1970s – eventually paid off and had a huge impact on the movement.

"And it took until 2015, but then, that did officially become renamed as Denali,” says Chang. “So, I would say that that is both literally and figuratively a high point in renaming."

There's also been a recent movement to rename a mountain inside Yellowstone National Park.

In Minnesota, the state historical society is seeking input on renaming Fort Snelling. And during the 2017 State Capitol renovation, some of the artwork depicting American Indians was updated.


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