History restored: Family celebrates return of Bde Maka Ska lake name
Indian Country Today
Nearly 200 years ago, the Dakota community of Ḣeyata Ọtunwe existed along the banks of Bde Maka Ska. It was a place where Dakota people fished and harvested wild rice.
Kate Beane knows this because her family told stories about it that were passed on through oral tradition. And because she is a public historian who has conducted hours of research to learn more.
Five years ago, Kate began to work with her twin sister, Carly Bad Heart Bull, and father, Syd Beane, to restore the lake’s Dakota name, which is pronounced beh-day-muh-KAH-skuh.
The Minneapolis lake has been known by most as Lake Calhoun. Settlers started calling it that in the 1820s after John C. Calhoun, a politician who advocated for slavery and the Indian Removal Act. Eventually the name became official.
But this Flandreau Santee Sioux family wanted to restore the lake’s Dakota name to honor its history. So they volunteered countless hours to attend Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board meetings and court hearings to make it happen.
On Wednesday, the Beane family finally “won” after the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled on a technicality that the state’s Department of Natural Resources has the authority to change the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska.
“Under Minnesota law, the body of water that was Lake Calhoun is now Bde Maka Ska,” the court’s opinion said Wednesday. The road to restore the name wasn’t easy though.
(Related: Minnesota Supreme Court Opinion)
The Beane family was met with opposition from a group called “Save Lake Calhoun.” Its founder, Tom Austin, is a venture capitalist who has penned editorials on the topic in local newspapers.
“Everyday Minnesotans just want to be left alone and not bullied into changing the names of our lakes, our streets, our schools, our landmarks and our cities,” Austin wrote in an April 2019 editorial. “We’re sick of the ‘holier than thou’ morality tone coming from politicians, media and activists.”
Save Lake Calhoun also hired an attorney to represent it through the years of legal battles. Austin did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Thursday.
Others told the family that Bde Maka Ska was too difficult to pronounce.
“My daughter was 3, and she wanted to go up to the podium at a park board meeting,” Kate remembers. “I held her in my arms, and she taught the entire room how to say Bde Maka Ska. After that she told me it was her job to educate.”
The sisters stumbled upon this project after being asked to serve on a community advisory committee through the park board.
Kate is director of Native American Initiatives at the Minnesota Historical Society and holds a doctorate in American Studies from the University of Minnesota. Carly is executive director of the Native Ways Federation, which aids nonprofits, and holds a law degree from the University of Minnesota. Syd, their father, is a retired college professor, filmmaker and board chair on the American Indian CDC.
The sisters, alongside other committee members, went to different parts of the city to ask community members what would make them feel more welcome near the park given that it’s surrounded by mostly white, wealthy neighborhoods.
Then they engaged in conversation to share their family’s history of Bde Maka Ska.
“We humanized the history around this particular space,” Carly said.
After others heard about it, they agreed that more Dakota history should be shared around the lake.
In 2019, the city paid for decorative railing and pavement stamps that acknowledge Maḣpiya Wic̣aṡṭa (Cloud Man) and his village Ḣeyata Ọtunwe (village to the side). The artwork was completed by Native artists.
“What’s great is that we can do that everywhere because we, as Native people, have these stories about our connection to places near us,” Carly said. “They exist everywhere.”
This week, after news circulated announcing the court’s ruling, the sisters spotted a post from a group of organizers in Bismarck, North Dakota. They’re working to change the name of a local park called Custer Park.
“I saw on Facebook yesterday that they shared a link to a news story about Bde Maka Ska,” Carly said. “Hopefully our story gives others hope too, that you can win.”
Minnesota Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, White Earth Ojibwe, chimed in too.
“This ruling acknowledges the history and value of Indigenous people. It’s an assist to parents and caregivers of Native kids trying to ensure our children grow up in a world that knows we have always been here. We’re still here. We will always be here,” Flanagan shared on Twitter.
The Beane family’s next step is to educate more people and “raise visibility about Indigenous issues because that work is never done for us.”
But in the meantime, they are celebrating.
“When I told my daughter about the news, she gave me a huge hug and then literally jumped out of her chair and started running around yelling, ‘Bde Maka Ska! Bde Maka Ska!’” Kate said laughing. “It was a good day.”
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