Body of water in Cook County renamed by Department of Interior to omit blemish, one of 650 in US

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A body of water near Palos Park in suburban Cook County has been renamed by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to remove a taint for Native women, a change that members of the Native American community are welcoming in hopes it will harm future generations. is saved by the word .

The shallows now called Cherry Hill Woods Sloughs are one of nearly 650 geographic features across the country to be renamed after United States Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American to head a cabinet office, issued a secretarial order in November denigrating the word “squaw” and creating a process for revising and replacing geographic names that use the term.

Formerly known as Laughing Squaw Sloughs, the water feature is one of two locations renamed on September 8 in Illinois. The other is an island in Calhoun County, formerly known as Squaw Island. It will now be called Calhoun Island.

Dorene Wiese, a 73-year-old member of the White Earth Ojibwe Nation and president of the American Indian Association of Illinois, recalls being called the word that started in kindergarten in Minneapolis.

“As a kid you know it’s not right, people call you a name,” Wiese said. “And as you get older, you realize it was actually worse than we thought.”

Cartoon drawings dating back to the 1800s depicted indigenous women and used the term in an offensive way, Wiese said. She hopes that removing references to the word from place names will be a step to ensure that the next generation will not be subjected to its offense, or even know nothing of the word at all.

“That’s our hope, that that will be erased in the future,” she said.

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The removal of references to the word began in Illinois more than a year ago.

In 2019, Jim Denomie began raising awareness that a Lake County creek, then called Squaw Creek, contained a blemish. Denomie is a citizen of the Bad River Chippewa Indians of Lake Superior and a member of the Creek Drainage District, an agency largely responsible for agricultural field health and reducing environmental pollution, said Chairman Patrick Duby.

“But then I’m like, ‘We can take on more than one project,'” Duby said. “So I started investigating how we can correct a mistake.”

The group worked with local historians, tribes, school districts, state senators and more to rally public support and submit a proposal to the Board on Geographic Names to change the waterway’s name to Manitou Creek. Manitou refers to a ghost, Denomie said.

“The water itself is the lifeblood of our mother Earth,” he added.

With more than 30 letters of recommendation from government levels, businesses, tribes and citizens, they submitted a proposal to rename the creek in September, Duby said, expecting it to be some time before they hear back.

The renaming process, as described on the Board on Geographic Names website, takes at least six months and requires a “compelling reason” and “proof of support for the change”. In this case, the board approved Manitou Creek’s new name in early December, and the Manitou Creek Drainage District’s efforts soon became part of a national movement.

Under Haaland’s command, the Derogatory Geographic Names Task Force received more than 1,000 name removal recommendations and consulted nearly 70 tribal lands, according to the Interior Ministry. Since February, the word “sq___” has been mentioned in all official announcements from the department.

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In 2021, sq___ became the third term derogatory in all usage by the Board on Geographic Names, after pejorative terms for black people and Japanese in the 1960s and 1970s.

Haaland has issued an additional order to establish the Advisory Committee on Reconciliation in Place Names charged with soliciting feedback for additional derogatory terms used on federal land.

“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure that our public lands and waters are accessible and welcoming. That starts with removing racist and derogatory names that have graced federal sites for far too long,” Haaland said in a press release.

Although Illinois has no federally recognized tribes in the state, Chicago has one of the largest urban Native American populations in the country. Many members of the Native American community still feel cultural ties to natural places, and their names signify honor, said Jasmine Gurneau, president of the Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative.

“They’re more than just recreational spaces, they’re culturally important, spiritually important to us,” she said.

Cherry Hill Woods Sloughs’ former name was identified as problematic by the Forest Preserves a few years ago, Carl Vogel, a spokesman for the Cook County Forest Preseve District, said in an emailed statement. It was probably conceived in the 1940s when the area was used as a camping landmark.

Today, the area is not accessible by a trail and there are no signage or amenities to greet visitors to the site, and it is not one of five campgrounds designated by the Forest Preserve District.

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The forest district submitted the name to the task force in April and recommended that it be renamed Muskrat Sloughs, a name chosen with input from the Native American community, Vogel said. Gurneau said the muskrat is an animal that plays an important role in many of the creation stories of the Great Lakes tribes.

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According to a February press release from the Department of the Interior, the task force would prioritize names received from the public and from tribes. Both Vogel and Gurneau said it is unclear why the name Muskrat Sloughs was not chosen.

“Anyway, the most important thing is that the derogatory name will no longer appear in any capacity,” Vogel said in the statement.

The Forest Preserve District will continue to review the names to ensure they are respectful, he said. Gurneau said these assessments are not just about looking for potentially derogatory names, but also opportunities to educate communities about what current names represent and honor. For example, she said she currently works in the Skokie Park District, where several parks are named after indigenous peoples.

“Maybe the tribe doesn’t want that name changed, but what a great opportunity it is to elevate that community,” she said.

Before Thursday’s announcement, Wiese said she wasn’t aware there were places in Illinois that still used the word. Wiese’s current goals as president of the American Indian Association of Illinois, currently based in Chicago, are to raise awareness of the references to Native Americans in public school mascots across the state and to work toward the incorporation of Native American history into school curricula. public schools.

“I think anything that draws attention to Native history in Illinois is important because we have so little information about American Indians here and across the country.” said Wies. “It’s really been a huge boost to try and spark interest in something about Native Americans in Chicago and Illinois.”

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