Developer who once asked what good Dakota Indians have ever done explains his Lake Calhoun love

Tom Austin, the relatively secretive venture capitalist and developer who bankrolled the effort to keep the-lake-formerly-known-as-Bde-Maka-Ska-formerly-known-as-Lake-Calhoun named for a despicable mutant, has uncloaked.

Other than one Parks Board meeting, Austin has spoken mostly through anonymous newspaper ads and a one-person organization called Save Lake Calhoun.

In the wake of his victory at the Court of Appeals this week, however, Austin has penned an op-ed for the Star Tribune today explaining why this is the hill he wishes to die on.

“My motive to fight for Lake Calhoun had less to do with trying to save the name itself and more to do with fighting for fairness and justice for everyday Minnesotans,” he said.

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. We’re sick of the “holier than thou” morality tone coming from politicians, media and activists.

Everyday Minnesotans are tired of being demanded by the elites (media, activists and politicians) that we change our beliefs, our values and our thoughts in order to conform to their worldviews. We take offense to the threat of being called a derogatory name merely for having a difference of opinion.

The fight for Lake Calhoun was never about relishing the name of John Calhoun, the guy who was on the wrong side of the moral argument for slavery. The fight is about the unfairness of the renaming effort and how everyday Minnesotans got ignored. Local politicians, lobbyists, the media and political activists hijacked the renaming process — and ignored how the majority of Minnesotans felt about Lake Calhoun.

To most of us, the name Lake Calhoun represents absolutely nothing more than a beautiful lake in the heart of the city. It never represented an endorsement of slavery or an endorsement of genocide, which is a worldview shared by many supporters of the name Bde Maka Ska.

You might recognize the tone. This is the politics of grievance and victimization aired by people who have privilege, power, and money. Everyday Minnesotans.

Austin had already betrayed his op-ed’s position in a 2017 op-ed that explained his reasoning for fighting the name change.

“What exactly have the Dakota Indians done that is a positive contribution to all Minnesotans?”

Funny thing about history. Eventually, it catches up to the present.

Everything Austin wrote, he could have written about other once-unpopular causes not favored by the majority: the right to vote for women, the right for an African American to sit at a lunch counter, the protests to end a war, the right to marry the person you love.

That’s the nature of history and people with power who demand to live on the wrong side of it without feeling uncomfortable for living there.

The Star Tribune had a good word for that in its editorial today on another display of power involving the majority pushing back against the “unpopular” inclusion of an aggrieved people: Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer’s and Sen. Scott Newman’s budget cutting of the Minnesota Historical Society for noting on a sign for Fort Snelling that there’s more to our history than the history of white men.


Sometimes it takes bullying to recalibrate the arrogance of the majority and pull a civilized world out of the darkness of its ignorance.

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