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Bde Maka Ska: My Stupid Opinion

In 2017, the City of Minneapolis changed its map forever (maybe — facts disputed) by renaming its largest lake. Overnight, Lake Calhoun, as it’s long been known, became Bde Maka Ska, a name previously attributed to the body of water by the native Dakota people. This change resulted in fairly immediate controversy between advocates for the change and advocates for “history”. That’s not to take away entirely from those in favor of maintaining the lake’s former name. As with anything old and valuable that takes on a new identity, folks who grew up around the lake knew it by a different name, and it’s not unnatural to feel uncomfortable with that substantial a change.

Still, I won’t argue today that Lake Calhoun is at all a better name for any body of water in Minnesota. Naming one of the most significant bodies of water in Minneapolis after a slavery-defending politician who never set foot in Minnesota, let alone upon the shores of his own lake, is bad optics today. It probably would have been then, were there more people to ably/legally protest. No, instead, amidst a heap of (mostly dead, at this point) controversy, I’d like to muddle waters already unnecessarily-muddled with my stupid opinion.

File:John C Calhoun by Mathew Brady, 1849.jpg
Who better to capture the beauty of Minneapolis’s largest lake? (Credit: Wikipedia/M. Brady)

The new name is “Bde Maka Ska”. The original name ascribed by the native people of the region before a group of unconcerned white dudes made it their duty to come up with a better one. It’s a fair name, if at first a bit unwieldy; the morpheme “Bde” is tough for an English-speaker to mimic accurately (though inaccurate pronunciation has never been much of a concern to the people of this great state). Translated, it means something close to “Lake White Earth”. Not bad. It’s better than “Onion“. So far, this is a great idea that I have no problems with. Except one: my stupid complaint.

“Bde Maka Ska” means “White Earth Lake”. “Lake” is part of that. It also happens to be the most unwieldy part, that initial “Bde”. It’s far from an insurmountable pronunciation difficulty, but it helps lead to my broader point: why did we translate “lake”? It’s not something we’ve done with the Mississippi or Minnesota rivers, nor for the remaining 9,999 (and some change) lakes. “Lake Maka Ska” sounds fine, doesn’t it? It’s easily pronounceable, consistently-named, and honors the heritage of the people who first named it.

It’s seemed obvious to me since the initial proposal that “Lake Maka Ska” sounds better than “Bde Maka Ska”. I probably should have said something earlier. Still, though, I’m a transplant to the great state of Minnesota, and maybe I’m not yet properly acclimated to the state’s… unique methods of pronunciation and naming. After all, I come from Sioux Falls, a city whose name is 100% sensibly spelled and unquestionable, right? And, at the end of the day, this is a pretty minor issue. I think the reason I never publicized it before was because of how ridiculous I felt the existing opposition was, and how I had no interest in bolstering that argument. There’s also the fact that my voice reaches maybe five or six of my Twitter followers on a good day and that my argument has no real chance to impact decision-making on the state level. That’s a minor point, though.

Maybe I’m wrong.

it does sound better, though, doesn’t it?

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