The water reservoir near Palos Park in the Cook County suburbs was renamed by the US Council on Geographical Names to remove slander against indigenous women. .

The shallow body of water now called Cherry Hill Woods Sloughs is one of almost 650 geographic features across the country to be given a new name after US Home Secretary Deb Haaland, who is the first Native American to head a government agency, issued secretariat in November, which found the word “squaw” offensive and set up a process to review and replace geographic names that use the term.

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

Dorene Wiese, 73-year-old White Earth Ojibwe Nation member and president of the American Indian Association of Illinois, remembers what she was called by a word beginning in a Minneapolis kindergarten.

“As a kid you know it’s not good, people call you names,” Wiese said. “And when you get older, you realize it was really worse than we thought.”

Wiese said the drawings dating back to the 19th century depicted native women and used the term in an offensive way. He hopes that removing references to words in place names will be a step to ensure that the next generation will not be at risk of offending him or even knowing the word.

“It is our hope that it will be erased in the future,” she said.

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

In 2019, Jim Denomie began to realize that the Lake County stream, then named Squaw Creekat, was confusing. Denomie is a resident of the Lake Superior Indian Bad River Chippewa and a member of the Stream Basin District, an agency that is largely responsible for maintaining farmland health and reducing environmental contamination, chairman Patrick Duby said.

“But then I say, ‘We can undertake more than one project,” Duby said. “So I started to wonder how we can fix the bug.”

The group worked with local historians, tribes, the school district, state senators and others to gather public support and submit a proposal to the Geographical Names Board to rename the waterway to Manitou Creek. Manitou is referring to the spirit, said Denoma.

“Water alone is the driving force behind our mother earth,” he added.

With over 30 letters of recommendation from levels of government, businesses, tribes and citizens, they made a proposal to rename the creek in September, Duby said, expecting it to be some time before they heard a reply.

The renaming processas indicated on the Geographical Names Board website, it lasts at least six months and requires “compelling reason” and “evidence of support for the change”. In this case, the board of directors approved the new name of Manitou Creek in early December, and the Manitou Creek Drainage District efforts soon became part of the national movement.

As per Haaland’s order, the Derogatory Geographical Names Task Force received more than 1,000 name deletion recommendations and consulted nearly 70 tribal nations, according to the Department of the Interior. Since Februarythe word was referred to as “sq___” in all official communications from the department.

In 2021, sq___ became the third announced term offensive in all applications by the House of Geographical Names, using pejorative terms for blacks and Japanese in the 1960s and 1970s.

Haaland issued an additional order by creating aconsultative commission for reconciliation in place names is designed to collect feedback on additional offensive terms used on federal grounds.

“I feel a deep obligation to use my platform to ensure our public areas and waters are accessible and friendly. This starts with removing racist and offensive names that have adorned federal locations for too long, ”Haaland said in a press release.

Although Illinois does not have any federally recognized tribes in the state, Chicago has one of the largest urban Native American populations in the country. Many Native American community members still feel cultural ties to natural places, and their names signify honor, said Jasmine Gurneau, president of the Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative.

“They are more than just recreational spaces, they have a cultural and spiritual significance for us,” she said.

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

Currently, the area is not accessible via a trail, visitors are not greeted by any signage or amenities, and it is not one of the five campsites designated by the Forest District.

The forest district sent the name to the task force in April, recommending that the name be changed to Muskrat Sloughs, a name chosen based on contributions from Native American communities, Vogel said. Gurneau said the muskrat is an animal that plays an important role in many of the creation tales of the Great Lakes tribes.

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

“Regardless, the main problem is that the offensive name will no longer appear in any character,” Vogel said in a statement.

He said the Forest Preserve District will continue to review names to make sure they are respected. Gurneau said these reviews not only include a search for potentially offensive names, but also opportunities to educate the community about what the current names represent and honor. For example, she said she currently works in the Skokie Park District, which has several parks named after tribal nations.

“The tribe may not want to change that name, but what a great opportunity this is to raise this community,” she said.

Wiese said ahead of Thursday’s announcement that she did not know there were places in Illinois that still use the word. He is currently in Chicago, and Wiese’s current goals as president of the American Indian Association of Illinois are to raise awareness of Native American references in public school mascots across the state and to work to incorporate American Indian history into public school programs.

“I think anything that draws attention to indigenous history in Illinois is important because we have so little information about American Indians here and across the country.” Wiese said. “Trying to get interested in anything about Native Americans in Chicago and Illinois was really a huge help.”

mellis@chicagotribune.com

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