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Friday August 18th 2017

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What’s in a Name?

By Peter Molenaar

13,000 years ago the great glacier, which had covered these parts for many thousands of years, began to recede.  Giant ice boulders left among the drift created the holes which became our lakes.  One such lake would come to be called Mde Maka Ska.

The people migrated northward with the receding ice.  Those who remained in this neighborhood began to alter the landscape with the repeated use of fire.  Forest undergrowth was reduced.  Pockets of prairie and oak savannah were expanded.  Buffalo befriended the curious deer.

Time passed…

In 1803, the United States purchased “ownership” of this area from France.  In 1805, Lieutenant Zebulon Pike acquired from the Dakota the site which would become Fort Snelling.  In 1817, the then Secretary of War, one John C. Calhoun, sent in an army to survey the surroundings.  Having located Mde Maka Ska, the troops decided to call her “Lake Calhoun”.

Then, June 11 and 12, 2011…

Strains of classical guitar fused to jazz and flamenco drew me to a setting just east of the “Center” on Franklin Avenue.  Among its many attractions, the American Indian Arts Festival was playing host to Gabriel Ayala.  Drawn from the Arizona Yaqui, Gabriel is best loved by some 20 million Venezuelans who have embraced him via their “Festival Internacional de la Guitara”.

Among the visual artists was Carolyn Lee Anderson (now Navaho Minnesotan).  Carolyn’s acrylic works are deeply conceptual, surreal but real.  Her painting entitled “Dakota Concentration Camp” is astonishing.

A stockade of teepees appears in the foreground, the modern St. Paul skyline appears to the rear.  In the middle resides a Christian church.  We talked about it.

So now, we have the local history buff who wishes to rename Lake Calhoun in honor of Hubert H. Humphrey.  Especially distasteful is the record of J.C. Calhoun’s speech to the U.S. Senate in which the virtues of slavery are extolled as a “permanent institution”.  Whereas, Humphrey is remembered as a champion of civil rights.

Yes, but…

I suggest that, after the revolution, a place name commission be established to re-examine the names of all locations.  After due deliberation, Native American commissioners should have final voice.  How does Mde Maka Ska sound?

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