Does racism belong in American society and culture anymore? Not according to a Montana state judge, and a plethora of citizens who petitioned that a lake in Whitefish be renamed. The lake, originally named “Lost Coon Lake”, has been a source of contention for decades. The name that was going to be decided for it, when the residents took it from Native Americans, was deemed too offensive to publish, and “Lost Coon Lake” was the compromise reached by the people at the time. The town itself is known for its connections to renowned racists such as Richard Spencer, who is on record referencing the way Nazis addressed Adolf Hitler in his declaration of “Hail, Trump!” in November of 2016. Spencer has a property he spends part of the year on in Whitefish, close to the lake. This as well as confrontational racist citizens who opposed movements for racial equality, such as the Black Lives Matter movement, have made contentious situations go from bad to worse. Still, residents push on for the name to be changed to be more inclusive of all people instead of upholding the racist ideals of a past era.
This final judgment decree isn’t the first time residents have tried to change the name of the lake, having been called “Lodgepole Pond” in one attempt to change the name, as cited by local lumberyard operator Don Jensen. Later on, it was called “Lost Loon Lake” by the Whitefish Lake Golf Club. Attempts had been made to change the name by these early on, but the final decision to put it into law was by District Judge Dan Wilson, after the more progressive residents created a petition in August 2020 insisting that government officials listen to them and change the name.
“Lost Loon Lake” was what was decided upon, though Whitefish City Council member Frank Sweeney claims that he believes the original name did not have any “racist intent”. Visitors and residents disagree and have been complaining for years about it according to Whitefish City Attorney Angela Jacobs. “People have taken huge offense,” she stated in August when the petition was first made, even if she later said, “… I guess, whether it’s accurate or not, people are truly offended.” This trend is perhaps showing that the people in power were waking up to what people wanted, even if officials are slow to acknowledge the history of the name and its racist origins. The bottom line is that the people demanded change. During the filing for the name change, Whitefish Community Library Director Joey Kositzky produced a document from 1964 that featured the headline for an old newspaper entitled “[N-Word] Lake name changed.” The new name goes into effect in January of 2022.