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Kandiyohi County lake will end year with new a name

WILLMAR -- After a long campaign by residents, a southern Kandiyohi County lake has officially been renamed Lake Wakanda.

Final approval was granted late this fall by the United States Board on Geographic Names to correctly spell the name of the shallow lake.

Most historical maps had spelled it "Waconda," but the most recent legal map spelled it "Wagonga," leaving many people confused.

The new spelling -- Lake Wakanda -- is believed to more accurately reflect the Dakota word that means "sacred place" or "where the spirit dwells."

The new name is now entered into the nation's official geographic names repository.

The process to correctly spell the name was started a decade ago by Muriel Felt whose family's roots to the community go back to 1866.

The mission was carried on by Felt's daughter, Marilee Druskin, who obtained approval for the name change from the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners in July and from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources in August.

"It had bothered everyone in our family that the name wasn't right," said Druskin. Their family had known the name to be "Waconda" and was upset when the official map called it "Wagonga."

After Druskin requested a name change for the lake, she was asked to do some research and reasons for the change.

With the help of Joe Circle Bear, who teaches the Dakota language in Morton, it was discovered that "Wagonga" didn't appear in the Dakota dictionary. "Waconda" would be OK, but the true spelling of the Dakota word was "Wakanda."

As long as the name was going to be changed, it was decided that the true Dakota spelling should be used, said Glen Yakel, hydrographics supervisor with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. "We had an unqualified opportunity to do the right thing," said Yakel.

"This final action spells the lake name correctly, preserves the historical site, honors the Dakota people and strengthens our link to the past for present and future generations," said Druskin in written correspondence with the Tribune.

During his 25 years of doing his job, Yakel said he's been involved with "dozens and dozens and dozens" of efforts to change the name of geographic features, but this was "one of the more fun cases that I've worked on," said Yakel.

He said the case caught the eye of the United States Board on Geographic Names when they took up the issue this fall in Oregon. The board questioned whether the research was accurate and if changing the spelling of the name was the right thing to do. Fortunately, Yakel said, a well-known linguist, Dr. William Bright, was in the room and confirmed the Wakanda spelling. The vote was unanimous, said Yakel.

In action that Yakel said he's never known to have happened before, the chairman of the United States Board on Geographic Names personally called Druskin to tell her the name change had been approved.

"It worked out just fabulously well," said Yakel.

He said local support, including the backing of the Kandiyohi County Commissioners and the local DNR officials, helped make the change happen. "Community support is the key," he said.

Yakel praised Druskin for her research, perseverance and patience in the project to change something from the past that will carry on to the future. "We hit a homerun," he said.

Now, Druskin and others who live in the Lake Wakanda area are working to improve the water quality there. That project involves the history of another lake -- Grass Lake.

Grass Lake was drained years ago with drainage ditches. Proposals include routing water back into the dry lake bed to help resolve flooding problems in Willmar and to keep out polluted water from Lake Wakanda and other downstream waters. The project will be discussed Tuesday by the city of Willmar Public Works/Safety Committee.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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