Lake Calhoun or Bde Maka Ska: Who’s in charge here?

When the Minnesota Court of Appeals decided last week that the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources lacked the authority to approve changing Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska, the last line of my post on the subject contained an important piece of information that went mostly unnoticed:

Because Lake Calhoun as a name existed for more than 40 years, the Court of Appeals said the DNR lacked the power to change it, while noting, too, that the Legislature provided no mechanism for changing the name of a lake that’s existed for more than 40 years.

In the aftermath of the decision, much of the discussion suggested it’s now up to the Legislature to determine whether the name should be changed.

One problem: it’s not.

The Legislature can’t. It’s right there in the Minnesota Constitution, Article 12, Section 1:

The legislature shall pass no local or special law authorizing the laying out, opening, altering, vacating or maintaining of roads, highways, streets or alleys; remitting fines, penalties or forfeitures; changing the names of persons, places, lakes or rivers

In an op-ed in Tuesday’s Star Tribune, DNR commissioner Sarah Strommen says this is the problem that must now be decided by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

If the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board can’t change the name, if the Hennepin County Board can’t change the name, if the DNR can’t change the name, and if the Minnesota Legislature can’t change the name, who can change the name?

The DNR recognizes that Minnesotans have deeply held perspectives regarding the names Bde Maka Ska and Lake Calhoun. I also understand that Minnesotans have a variety of opinions on the appropriate process for renaming geographic features. However, as the commissioner of DNR, my job is to implement the law as I understand it.

While I do not welcome spending limited agency resources on a Supreme Court appeal, there are fundamental legal questions raised in the ruling that go well beyond the naming of an individual lake. It is my responsibility to seek clarity from Minnesota’s highest court in this instance.