Papal advice doesn’t settle Lake Calhoun name dispute

Lake Calhoun in July. Photo: Riham Feshir / MPR News

Peter Bell, the former chair of the Metropolitan Council, is defending his decision to quit an advisory board on changes to Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun because the group focused too much on diversity and a name change.

The Star Tribune presented dueling op-eds today on the move to change the name of Lake Calhoun — named after the former secretary of war, defender of slavery, and architect of Indian resettlement under President Jackson — to its more historically accurate name.

Bell writes today that the campaign to rename the lake Bde Maka Ska overwhelmed the board’s mission.

Our committee hosted a number of open houses where more than 200 members of the public had an opportunity to share their ideas. When I asked staff if the public mentioned any issues related to diversity or inclusion, they said no.

In fact, a dirty little secret of our group was that virtually everyone had great difficulty figuring out just what the real diversity and inclusion problem was at our parks.

Does anyone really believe that people are in any way discouraged from enjoying our region’s parks? One example of the lengths people went to: a committee member stated that she had heard some minority communities didn’t like dogs — so perhaps we should consider requiring shorter leases.

Bell, who is African American, wrote that diversity and inclusion will not have a “transformational effect” on racial and cultural issues. “It is likely the most difficult and painful work needs to be done by disadvantaged communities themselves,” he said.

But Carly Bad Heart Bull, Kate Beane and Tracy Nordstrom — members of the Calhoun-Harriet Master Plan Racial Equity Subcommittee of the Citizens Advisory Committee to the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board — defended the focus on Lake Calhoun’s name in a separate op-ed .

Recently, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board passed a resolution recognizing dual names for this place, Lake Calhoun and Bde Maka Ska. While the formal recognition of the original name by the Park Board is an important gesture, we feel further action is needed to acknowledge the significance of the original name.

While the Park Board may not have the authority to officially change the name, those who do will certainly look to the board for guidance and a show of solidarity.

The historic wounds associated with Calhoun’s name are obvious, and deeply felt by many. Restoring Bde Maka Ska as the sole recognized name would reject misappropriation and reclaim a shared, and more uniting, heritage: a love of this place, settlement near important water, adaptation and caring for kin, and peaceful coexistence.

Restoring Bde Maka Ska also would invite historic and cultural interpretation at the site, promoting an opportunity for inclusion, education and healing.

Coincidentally, yesterday’s speech before Congress by the pope has added new fuel to the debate as opponents of the name change are invoking this line about immigration in the address:

“… it’s very difficult to judge the past by the criteria of the present.”

In their invocation, however, the opponents are ignoring the next paragraph in the pope’s address:

We must resolve now to live as nobly as – and as justly as possible as we educate new generations not to turn their back on our neighbors and everything around us. Building a nation calls us to recognize that we must constantly relate to others, rejecting a mindset of hostility in order to adopt one of reciprocal subsidiarity in a constant effort to do our best.