Reprinted here with permission from the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. Original article can be found here.
Mille Lacs Band officials are applauding the federal government’s plans to change the derogatory names of places in Minnesota and across the nation. The U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Deb Haaland recently signed Secretarial Order 3404 that declares “S-word” a derogatory term against Indigenous women and implements a process for replacing the names of places with that term across the country.
Recently, Mille Lacs Band Department of Natural Resources Commissioner Kelly Applegate participated in a consultation session with the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) regarding Secretarial Order 3404 to remove geographic names using an offensive word for “woman” (a Massachusetts tribe’s word for “woman” that had been misappropriated and used derogatorily in English).
Commissioner Applegate feels this is a powerful and brave act that the United States is taking under the leadership of DOI Secretary Haaland. “Our ikwewag, our women, are the foundation of our communities, providing life, family, and stability even in turbulent times, creating sacred times and spaces for healing and joy,” Commissioner Applegate said. “We must honor our women and their presence in all of our lives.”
Replacing the “S-word” with an appropriate name that is respectful is important as a step in addressing the long-standing ills against Indian Country and are long overdue.
“For Anishinaabe people, our language has power; when the words of a tribal community are misused by others in a way that causes shame or harm, that pain is very real,” said Mille Lacs Band Chief Executive Melanie Benjamin. “I am proud of the leadership of Secretary Haaland in protecting Indigenous language and honoring the legacy of Indigenous women everywhere.”
“When this consultation opportunity came up, we thought this was really important and wanted a seat at the table,” Commissioner Applegate said. “I am glad from a Commissioner of Natural Resources standpoint and protector of culture, people, and our traditions and our ways, showing our respect for our people. It is important to me that this initiative follows through. They are leaving it up to the tribes to decide on appropriate names. We applaud the DOI in efforts to remove this derogatory name.”
In the Band’s service territory, there are two small lakes by Pine City, MN, where one is called Devils Lake and the other “S-word” Lake, which in the consultation session Commissioner Applegate recommended the two should be taken as a set, and that both lakes should have their names changed to Manidoons-zaaga’igan Giiwedinong, meaning North Little Spirit Lake, and Manidoons-zaaga’igan Zhaawanong, meaning South Little Spirit Lake. The team at the DNR constructed a powerful comment letter sent to the DOI by April 24, 2022, to reiterate Commissioner Applegate’s recommendations.
Charlie Lippert, Mille Lacs Band DNR, explained that during the days of oppression of Native American faith, English speakers took any instance of “manidoo” and translated it as “devil” and not as “spirit” so that the Christian idea of the Christian God could prevail over the indigenous idea of a manidoo or spirit. In the case of Devil’s Lake and S-word Lake, they are both shallow lakes immediately south of Cross Lake on the east side of Pine City. Devils Lake was named because of the insects (most likely mosquitos), which Ojibwe respectfully call manidoons, or little spirits. Thus, the northern of the two lakes was then called Devils Lake and its smaller “sister” lake to the south was called S-word Lake, having been translated from the derogatory word for woman.
“I appreciate Secretary Haaland engaging this movement to respect women and roles played in our lives,” said Susan Klapel, Executive Director of Natural Resources. “I remember my mom, Peggy Klapel (Dunkley), being very disgusted by the S-word and how freely and carelessly it was tossed about. I watch a lot of women in my life whom I respect, and I guess they really don’t know. So many of the women I work with, fished with, hunted with, shopped with, cooked with, or even just sat around and had conversations over a cribbage board with, really may not understand how offensive the word is. And I think of Lori Piestewa who was killed in Iraq. She was the First Native American woman soldier to die in combat in 2003. I think besides my mother expressing her distain of the S-word, we tend to not think about it often unless it is right in front of us like a mountain (see sidebar on Piestewa Peak). Changing references to this derogatory the word provides all due respect for my mother, for Lori Piestewa, and for all women everywhere.”
In the event that there are no other tribes commenting on other features in the area, but that are not necessarily in the Mille Lacs Reservation area, the DNR team has identified a few other features as having cultural reference based on cultural knowledge that exists. They also offered suggestions for such features but will defer to any other tribe who may have a stake in said features to ensure the proper dialect and/or language will be used.
“As soon as we saw the opportunity to consult about this issue, we said yes. I can’t express enough how important it is for us to do this,” Commissioner Applegate said.