Move to change Washington County's 'Halfbreed Lake' is somehow controversial

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The U.S. Geological Survey still labels this suburban body of water 'Halfbreed Lake.'

It's been a little while since "half-breed" was an acceptable term to use. 

Like, 50 years, at least: Cher released a song called "Half-Breed" in 1973, and even then, it was clear the term was pretty damn offensive to people of mixed race (Native American and white, in the most common usage).

That's why it's so surprising that Washington County is just now getting around to renaming a body of water still officially called "Halfbreed Lake" on United States Geological Survey documents. Locals in the Forest Lake or Scandia area typically think of it as "Sylvan Lake," though a Google search for that term turns up more results for a lake outside Brainerd, about two hours north of the St. Paul suburbs; there's also another lake that goes by Sylvan (a term for a heavily wooded area) in Hennepin County. 

The idea of renaming the lake was brought to the county's attention with a citizen-led petition in January. County commissioners have put the matter on tommorow's meeting agenda, along with a series of facts that have been "learned" since the January board meeting. 

Among them: A consultant on Indian Education for Forest Lake schools emailed the county to say "half-breed" is "most certainly a derogatory name," a view echoed by both Merriam-Webster and Wikipedia.

The citizen petition against the existing name says it "reflects poorly on the lake and the community." Amazingly, not everyone agrees: KSTP found a couple locals who want to keep Halfbreed Lake named as such. Sandra Moszer, who's lived next to the lake for almost four decades, says changing the name amounts to "erasing local history," which might then be lost on newcomers to the area. 

Right. Because how else will people learn that the lake-namers of Washington County used to be pretty racist?

Also against renaming was Mike Welch, whose family ties to the area go back even longer. He says he prefers Halfbreed Lake, but, if people insist on changing it, he wants to find something other than "Sylvan," saying, "there's already a bunch" of those in Minnesota and elsewhere.

This point about originality is a decent one... but not good enough to keep the word "Halfbreed" on a map in 2017.


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