Fall 2013

Brothers of the Earth: Before Wisconsin Existed

Menominee Place Names Map and GIS Technology marks Wisconsin’s history

By Sydney Inks

Menominee and Ho-Chunk elders tell their stories of Wisconsin’s geographical evolution years before it became a state in an recently completed effort to preserve the region’s roots.

A 30-year research project, The Menominee Place Names Map, has integrated new technology with oral history to produce a map of Wisconsin with its indigenous names given by the Menominee and     Ho-Chunk.

The team consisted of Ray Reser, director of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point Museum of Natural History, Mike Hoffman a Menominee native speaking elder, and members of the UW-Stevens Point Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Center. The GIS Center on campus uses computer hardware and software to collect, visualize and communicate spatial information to confront and solve geographical challenges such as urban development. The project members created the map to preserve the vanishing native knowledge of the region. Only six fluent speakers of the native tongue remain today since the next generations speak little to none of their native language.

The map replicates the landscape of Wisconsin, but removes all current names and replaces them with the original names the Menominee and

Ho-Chunk gave to landforms, rivers and lakes. The elders provided stories of the meanings of the words, which Reser describes as “giving life” to each place. Additionally, they provide descriptions of the last glacial impacts, whales in Lake Michigan, and animals such as elks and caribou that no longer exist in Wisconsin.

The Menominee Place Names Map re-establishes the heritage of the Wisconsinite natives, the Menominee and Ho-Chunk people. UW-Stevens Point serves and supports the diverse cultures of its local and statewide community.

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