Indigenous Place Names as a Way to Study Land Chracteristics

Authors: Miles McIntosh, Derek Wallis

Mentors: Prajukti Bhattacharyya, Sara Gordon Altiman


Indigenous names of geographical locations and towns can grant insight into the area: whether that be the natural features or cultural significance. However, what if the meaning of the name changed? Due to the manner in which settlers from Europe and Native Americans interacted in the 17th-19th century, this was a common occurrence throughout North America. The Indigenous names can give us insight to what the area looked like before settlers arrived compared to now.

For this project my collaborators and I focused on locations in Wisconsin. The primary questions being: what were the original names of areas and how did they relate to the physiographic and environmental features of the area? Many of those features have changed through time due to climate change and/or human actions such as wetlands being drained for farming or forests being cut due to spread of urbanization.

Our project involves: taking the names of Wisconsin locations with original Indigenous names, finding the probable Anishinaabe language(s) in which the place was originally named, then finding possible name meaning(s) with help of a native Anishinaabe speaker. We then examined if the meaning of the original place name is still applicable. In our project, we display our findings with a story map to show the meanings of the original place names.

We hope our project can show how the land features have changed throughout history and learn more about our geologic past. Indigenous place names were originally used to transfer place-based knowledge, and with this story map we can help keep this tradition alive.

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. Vol. 55, No. 6, 2023
doi: 10.1130/abs/2023AM-396020
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