If you are traveling around Wisconsin this summer, you may encounter places named in the language of the Native American people who lived here long before Europeans settled this area.
Now, the Department of the Interior is implementing a process to replace place names considered offensive to Indigenous people. The department has identified 28 Wisconsin place names that contain the term, and is seeking public comment on how to rename them.
Kris Goodwill is the Statewide Tribal Liaison for the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and a member of the Menominee Nation. She says the term in question is now considered a derogatory term for Native American women.
“It is my understanding that it came from either a Cree or Odawa word that was mispronounced. So, over the years, it was a word that became offensive to Native American women. I am a Native American woman, and I do consider it derogatory,” says Goodwill.
In November 2021 the federal government officially declared the term, which we are choosing not to list here, as derogatory and offensive. It is now in the process of renaming these places. Goodwill says the federal movement is a long time coming.
“This came about through a Secretarial order from Secretarial Deb Haaland, the federal Secretary of the Interior. She issued an order saying it’s a derogatory term and that it be removed from all federal geographic names and places in the country,” says Goodwill.
Movements to remove the term from geographical features have been simmering in the state for decades — including locally.
A map of the place names with the offending term, from the US Geological Survey.
In 2019, the Dane County Board voted to rename a bay in Lake Monona to remove the term. Former Dane County Supervisor Tanya Buckingham Anderson represented the 24th district from 2018 to 2020, and was the sponsor of the resolution to rename the bay to Wiicawak Bay.
“We had to do a little looking around to see what the best approach would be. The Dane County Land and Water Resources Department was really critical in helping us move this whole process forward. The first thing I did was reach out to the Ho-Chunk, because it was raised to me that the Ho-Chunk had actually met at the bay several years earlier and expressed a desire for the name to be changed,” says Anderson.
Anderson says that even though the Dane County Board passed the resolution in 2019, it was not approved at the federal level until last winter.
Goodwill says that with the creation of the order on the federal level, the renaming process should be expedited.
“I think that tribes are happy to see this, and they think that it’s overdue. The process for getting a name change can take a long time. And that’s why Secretary Haaland did this order, so these changes could be on a fast track.”
The federal government is seeking public comment on the new names for the features. Those comments are due by Monday, April 25 by either of the following methods:
- Federal eRulemaking Portal: Submit written comments online at www.regulations.gov by entering “DOI-2022-0001” in the Search bar and clicking “Search.” You can also navigate directly to the comment page here: www.regulations.gov/commenton/DOI-2022-0001-0001
- Submit Comments By Mail To: Reconciliation of Derogatory Geographic Names, MS-511, U.S. Geological Survey, 12201 Sunrise Valley Dr., Reston, VA 20192.
Note: All submissions must include Docket Number DOI-2022-0001. All comments received will be posted without change to www.regulations.gov, including any personal information provided.
To request additional information about this notice, please submit your question or request to SO3404_FRNquestions@usgs.gov, or contact Michael Tischler at 703-344-4348.