Bde Maka Ska

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Bde Maka Ska
Lake Calhoun
Boats on the lake in 2017
LocationMinneapolis, Minnesota
Coordinates44°56′30″N 93°18′45″W / 44.94167°N 93.31250°W / 44.94167; -93.31250Coordinates: 44°56′30″N 93°18′45″W / 44.94167°N 93.31250°W / 44.94167; -93.31250
Native nameBdé Makhá Ská  (Dakota)[1]
Basin countriesUnited States
Surface area401 acres (1.62 km2)
Average depth82 ft (25 m)
Max. depth87 ft (27 m)

Bde Maka Ska (/bəˈd məˈkɑː skɑː/,[2] also known as Lake Calhoun) is the largest lake in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and part of the city's Chain of Lakes. Surrounded by city park land and circled by bike and walking trails, it is popular for many outdoor activities. The lake has an area of 401 acres (1.62 km2) and a maximum depth of 87 feet (27 m).

Lake and surrounding area[edit]

The lake (center) from the air

The lake is part of the Grand Rounds National Scenic Byway, connecting with Lake of the Isles on the northeast, Cedar Lake and Brownie Lake on the northwest, and Lake Harriet on the south. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board trail system has a 3.4-mile (5.5 km) trail around the lake for bicyclists and skaters and a 3.2-mile (5.1 km) trail around it for pedestrians. Both of these trails connect to the larger trail system via connections to Lake of the Isles and Lake Harriet. In addition, the Midtown Greenway Trail is located just north of the lake and Lake Street. The lake itself is popular for canoeing, kayaking, and windsurfing, and it has three swimming beaches.

Bathers at the lake, about 1917

The three beaches are North Beach on the north side of the lake, 32nd Beach on the east, and Thomas Beach on the south. There is Bde Maka Ska Park and surrounding park land offers parking, picnicking, volleyball, and athletic fields. It is also home of sailing, hosting the Calhoun Yacht Club, the Minneapolis Sailing Center, as well as local high school teams and the University of St. Thomas Sailing Team.

From 1829-1839, it was the site of the Bdewákhathuŋwaŋ Dakota agricultural village known as Ḣeyate Otuŋwe.[3] A plaque on the east side of the lake commemorates the mission station built by Samuel and Gideon Pond where they created the first alphabet for the Dakota language[4] at Cloudman's Village.[3] On the west side is The Bakken, an old mansion with medicinal gardens and a library and museum devoted to medical electricity and the history of electromagnetism.[5] The Como-Harriet Streetcar Line operates between the lake and Lake Harriet.


"Lake Mendoza" (as it was sometimes called) in 1908

Historic names[edit]

The Dakota originally called the lake Mde Maka Ska (modern spelling Bdé Makhá Ská;[1] English approximation: Be-DAY Mah-KAH-Ska)[6] meaning Lake White Earth,[7] or Lake White Bank,[8] a name that probably was given by the Ioway who inhabited the area until the 16th century. Another Dakota name for the lake may have been Mde Med'oza, which was the name initially adopted by settlers, either as Lake Medoza or in translation as Loon Lake.[9] The Dakota also described it as Heyate Mde, meaning the set back lake.[10]

Calhoun naming[edit]

The United States Secretary of War, John C. Calhoun, sent the Army to survey the area that would surround Fort Snelling in 1817. Calhoun had also authorized the construction of Fort Snelling, one of the earliest American settlements in the state. The surveyors named the water body "Lake Calhoun" in his honor,[11] and the Fort Snelling Military Reservation survey map of Lt. James L. Thompson in 1839 shows that name for the lake.[12]

The downtown Minneapolis skyline and refectory building reflected in the lake in 2017

Calhoun–Bde Maka Ska naming dispute[edit]

Calhoun's legacy as a slaveowner and pro-slavery politician led critics to question whether he was the best person to be honored. In 2011 the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) visited the issue. Their legal counsel concluded that the board could not legally change the name, as state law gives that power to the Commissioner of Natural Resources, and then only in the first 40 years after the name was designated. Following the Charleston church shooting in June 2015, a fresh drive to change the name started via an online petition and the Park Board indicated it would look into whether they could change the lake's name through state action.[13][14] At the time, the Minneapolis Star Tribune published an article sharing Calhoun's views on the black race:

The number of deaf and dumb, blind, idiots and insane of the Negroes in the States that have changed the ancient relations between the races [and are no longer slaves] is one out of every ninety-six; while in the States adhering to it [slavery], it is one out of every six hundred and sixty-one; being nearly six to one against the free blacks in the same state

as well as his actions in ordering the flogging of one his own slaves.[15] In fall 2015 the board added the Dakota name to signage below the official name.[1] In March 2016, an advisory group decided by majority vote to urge the MPRB to restore the lake's former name.[16] There was also a proposal to rename the lake for Senator Paul Wellstone, who is buried in nearby Lakewood Cemetery.[17]

In 2017, the Minneapolis Park Board voted unanimously to recommend changing the lake's name back to Bde Maka Ska[18] and the Hennepin County commissioners agreed.[19] In January 2018, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) made Bde Maka Ska the official name in Minnesota.[20][21] To change it at the federal level, the state submitted materials to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names,[22] which approved the change in June 2018.[23][24][2] Park signs around the lake use only the name Bde Maka Ska.[25][26]

On April 29, 2019, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the DNR, holding that a name that had been in use more than 40 years could only be changed by the legislature.[27] The MPRB stated they will continue to keep the signage of Bde Maka Ska at the lake and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said, "I will continue to call Bde Maka Ska by its rightful name. That was the lake's name before people who look like me renamed it to honor a slavery apologist and — as far as I'm concerned — that is still its name today".[28] The DNR has 30 days from the date of the ruling to appeal and also released a statement confirming that the federal Board on Geographic Names has adopted Bde Maka Ska as the lake's official name, therefore the federal name will continue to be Bde Maka Ska.[28] Executive secretary of the U.S. Board on Geographic Names Lou Yost said, "State legislation (or court ruling) is not binding on the Federal Government. The name at the Federal level will remain Bde Maka Ska as was approved at the BGN's June 21, 2018 meeting".[29]


The lake covered with ice and snow in December

The lake contains black crappie, bluegill, bowfin, common carp, hybrid sunfish, largemouth bass, northern pike, pumpkinseed, tiger muskellunge, walleye, white sucker, and yellow perch. Some fish consumption guideline restrictions have been placed on the lake's bluegill, crappie, largemouth bass, northern pike, walleye, and white sucker due to mercury and perfluorooctanesulfonic acid contamination.[30]

In 1991, the then-Minnesota state record tiger muskellunge at 33 pounds 8 ounces was caught in the lake.[31] The Minneapolis Park and Recreation website lists the lake as one of the best in the city for ice fishing walleye, northern pike, and crappies.[32]

Zebra mussels, an aquatic invasive species, were found in the lake in 2018.[33]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Greene, Britta (December 4, 2015). "How to say Lake Calhoun's Dakota name: 'Bde Maka Ska'". MPR News. Minnesota Public Radio. Archived from the original on December 7, 2015. Retrieved December 4, 2015. The Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board added "Bde Maka Ska" to signs around Lake Calhoun
  2. ^ a b Harlow, Tim (July 16, 2018). "Feds now recognize Lake Calhoun as Bde Maka Ska". Minneapolis Star Tribune. Retrieved 2018-08-24.
  3. ^ a b Beane, Katherine (2012). "Bde Maka Ska / Lake Calhoun, Minneapolis". In Westerman, Gwen; White, Bruce (eds.). Mni Sota Makoce: The Land of the Dakota. Saint Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press. ISBN 978-0-87351-869-7.
  4. ^ "History of the Dakota Mission". Pond Dakota Historical Society. 2017.
  5. ^ Sanders, Michael (2017). "ABOUT THE BAKKEN". The Bakken Museum.
  6. ^ Eldred, Sheila (June 23, 2016). "Renaming Lake Calhoun: Native American activist Syd Beane explains the Minneapolis lake's name change". Minnesota Monthly. You learn how to pronounce it: Be-DAY Mah-KAH-Ska.
  7. ^ Cairn, Rich; Cairn, Susan (2003). "History of Minnehaha Creek Watershed" (PDF). Minnehaha Creek Watershed District. p. 19. Archived from the original (PDF) on July 30, 2009. Retrieved August 6, 2009.
  8. ^ "Lake Maka Ska has a nice historical ring to it". Star Tribune. Minneapolis. October 20, 2017.
  9. ^ Brandt, Steve (October 12, 2015). "Dakota name for Calhoun probably originated with predecessor tribe". Star Tribune.
  10. ^ Myrbo, Amy; Murphy, Marylee; Stanley, Valerie (2011). "The Minneapolis Chain of Lakes by bicycle: Glacial history, human modifications, and paleolimnology of an urban natural environment". In Miller, James D.; Hudak, George J.; Wittkop, Chad; McLaughlin, Patrick I. (eds.). Archean to Anthropocene: Field Guides to the Geology of the Mid-Continent of North America. GSA Field Guides. 24. Boulder, Colorado: The Geological Society of America. pp. 425–437. doi:10.1130/2011.0024(20). ISBN 978-0-8137-0024-3. Lake Calhoun, first known by Native Americans as Lake Medoza ("Lake of the Loons"), Mde Maka Ska ("Lake of the White Earth"), or Heyate Mde ("Lake Set Back from the River")...
  11. ^ Keating, William H. (1824). Narrative of an expedition to the source of St. Peter's River, Lake Winnepeek, Lake of the Woods, &c., &c. : performed in the year 1823, by order of the Hon. J.C. Calhoun, secretary of war, under the command of Stephen H. Long, major U.S.T.E. Philadelphia: H.C. Carey & I. Lea. p. 303. OCLC 77170807.
  12. ^ Johnson, Frederick L. (2009). Richfield: Minnesota's Oldest Suburb. Richfield, Minnesota: Richfield Historical Society Press. p. 2. ISBN 9781605856360.
  13. ^ Brandt, Steve (June 23, 2015). "Lake Calhoun name change gets another look in Minneapolis". Star Tribune.
  14. ^ Brandt, Steve (June 24, 2015). "Minneapolis Park Board gives fresh look at renaming Lake Calhoun after South Carolina shootings". Star Tribune.
  15. ^ Furst, Randy, "John C. Calhoun, namesake of a Minneapolis lake, beat his slaves and trumpeted slavery", Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 11, 2015.
  16. ^ Steve Brandt (March 24, 2016). "Lakes panel urges restoring Bde Maka Ska name for Lake Calhoun". StarTribune.
  17. ^ Thomas, Dylan (October 11, 2017). "New petition seeks to rename Lake Calhoun for Wellstone". Southwest Journal.
  18. ^ Faiza Mahamud (May 3, 2017). "Minneapolis Park Board votes to change Lake Calhoun name to Bde Maka Ska". StarTribune.
  19. ^ Nate Gotlieb (November 22, 2017). "Bde Maka Ska recommended by County Board". Southwest Journal. Minnesota Premier Publications. The Hennepin County Board on Nov. 21 voted to recommend changing the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, which means "Lake White Earth" in Dakota.
  20. ^ Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (January 18, 2018). "Re: The Proposed Renaming of Lake Calhoun, Minnesota Public Water No. 27-31 in Hennepin County, Minnesota to Bde Maka Ska" (PDF). Names of Geographic Features Order.
  21. ^ Chanen, David (January 19, 2018). "The state officially changes Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska". Star Tribune. Minneapolis. It's official, at least in Minnesota: Lake Calhoun, the biggest lake in Minneapolis, will now go by its original Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska.
  22. ^ Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (January 18, 2018). "State of Minnesota approves Lake Calhoun name change to Bde Maka Ska". News Release. Retrieved January 27, 2018.
  23. ^ "Feature Detail Report for: Bde Maka Ska". Geographic Names Information System. United States Geological Survey. July 15, 2018. Retrieved July 15, 2018.
  24. ^ Staff (July 15, 2018). "Federal government now recognizes Minneapolis lake as Bde Maka Ska". MPR News. Minnesota Public Radio. Retrieved July 16, 2018.
  25. ^ "Lake Calhoun officially recognized as Bde Maka Ska". Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. January 29, 2018. Bde Maka Ska is now the official name of the lake previously known as Lake Calhoun, following county and state approval of a request to change the lake name.
  26. ^ Du, Susan (January 30, 2018). "It's final: Lake Calhoun is now Bde Maka Ska, named in honor of original Minnesotans". City Pages. Minneapolis. Minneapolis Parks and Rec has torn down the old Lake Calhoun signs and drilled in new ones bearing Bde Maka Ska.
  27. ^ A18-1007 (April 29, 2019). "Save Lake Calhoun, Appellant, vs. Sarah Strommen, et al., Respondents" (PDF). State of Minnesota Court of Appeals. Retrieved April 29, 2019.
  28. ^ a b "Mayor, Park Board push back on ruling changing Bde Maka Ska to Lake Calhoun". KARE 11. April 29, 2019. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  29. ^ "Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board president responds to ruling on Lake Calhoun/Bde Maka Ska name change". KSTP-TV. April 29, 2019. Retrieved April 30, 2019.
  30. ^ "Lake information report: Minnesota DNR". MN DNR. MN DNR. 2005-07-25.
  31. ^ Ron Hustvedt Jr. "Taking On The Metro's Tiger Muskies". Primedia Enthusiast Magazine. Archived from the original on 2005-10-26.
  32. ^ "Ice Fishing". Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. 2017.
  33. ^ "DNR says invasive zebra mussels found in Minneapolis' Bde Maka Ska". Pioneer Press. St. Paul, Minnesota. October 8, 2018.

External links[edit]