Minnesota doesn't know what to do about the lake.

Formed by retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago, the 401-acre body of water in Minneapolis has been a sailboat-dotted, postcard-ready destination for years.

What to call it, however, has proved surprisingly difficult since the largest lake in the largest city of the North Star State wields two different identities.

To some, it will always be Lake Calhoun, so named for South Carolina U.S. Sen. John C. Calhoun, a Southerner who was twice a U.S. vice president, once a secretary of war, and a steadfast supporter of slavery who famously called it a “positive good."

To others, the lake ought to be known by its Dakota name of Bde Maka Ska (Be-DAY Mah-KAH-Ska), which roughly translates to White Earth Lake.

"We're having issues that are similar to what's going on with Confederate monuments in Southern states," said St. Cloud State University historian Christopher Lehman. "The issue of the renaming has to do with the state trying to come to grips with its connections to slaveholders."

The Minnesota connection to slaveholders so far away from the South is rooted in the five-year period before the Civil War began and was arguably a cooler climate escape. The link is outlined extensively in Lehman's upcoming book, "Slavery's Reach: Southern Slaveholders in the North Star State."

"There were Southern slaveholders who came to Minnesota during the last five years before the Civil War began. They came mostly during spring and summer months when the Mississippi River was thawed and they could travel up along or by the river," Lehman said.

Deciding which name from the past should be used as the lake's rightful namesake going forward has not only been challenging, it has prompted a bureaucratic legal battle.

Last year, a Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Commissioner took matters into his own hands and changed the name of Lake Calhoun to Bde Maka Ska.

However, the Minnesota Court of Appeals recently ruled the former DNR official lacked the authority to change the lake's name.

The decision was a victory for the group "Save Lake Calhoun," which challenged the legality of DNR’s actions by citing a 1925 state law that bars officials from changing the names of bodies of water after 40 years.

"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," the group's executive chairman Tom Austin wrote in a Star Tribune newspaper op-ed. "We're sick of the 'holier than thou' morality tone coming from politicians, media and activists."

But it’s not over yet.

Brian Rice, legal counsel for the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, told The Post and Courier the Minnesota State Supreme Court could soon decide whether to take up the case.

He estimates it’s a “50-50” chance that the justices will consider the case, but he’s 100 percent sure that Calhoun’s namesake will soon be gone for good.

"With all due respect to your readers in South Carolina, we will be saying adieu to Mr. Calhoun," Rice said.

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The bureaucratic scrubbing of Calhoun’s name from public spaces has been ongoing and steady, both in Minneapolis and elsewhere.

A recent vote by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board changed the name of the lake's park to Bde Maka Ska.

Later this summer, the board is poised to change the surrounding parkways and park roads that contain the Calhoun name.

In 2017, Yale University renamed its Calhoun College to honor Grace Murray Hopper, a Yale alumna who is frequently cited as a pioneer in computer science.

In 2016, an independent bike shop changed its name from Calhoun Cycle to Perennial Cycle, writing on its website, “We can no longer turn a blind eye to the history and heritage of Mr. John C. Calhoun, and feel an undeniable need to separate ourselves from that history."

Rice said he does not see the fight ending anytime soon.

"The past is never dead. It's not even past," he said, quoting writer William Faulkner.

"With these lake names, it’s kind of like we have two Americas."

Reach Caitlin Byrd at 843-937-5590 and follow her on Twitter @MaryCaitlinByrd.

Political Reporter

Caitlin Byrd is a political reporter at The Post and Courier and author of the Palmetto Politics newsletter. Before moving to Charleston in 2016, her byline appeared in the Asheville Citizen-Times. To date, Byrd has won 17 awards for her work.