Lake, creek renamed to honor Ho-Chunk Nation

Published: Jul. 11, 2016 at 12:46 PM CDT
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Water bodies located next to Pine View Campground on Fort McCoy's North Post have been renamed to Suukjak Sep Lake and Suukjak Sep Creek to honor the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin - a federally recognized tribe indigenous to the installation's area of Wisconsin.

The water bodies were formerly known as Squaw Lake and Squaw Creek. The new name, Suukjak Sep, translates to "black wolf" in the Ho-Chunk language.

The lake is a manmade impoundment on the creek. The creek itself was named Squaw Creek sometime in the mid-1800s.

"The old name of the creek and lake was a product of a very different time in American history and is seen as offensive by the Ho-Chunk people," said Natural Resources Branch (NRB) Chief Mark McCarty with the Directorate of Public Works Environmental Division. "Fort McCoy was asked for assistance by the Ho-Chunk Nation to see what steps were needed to get the name changed."

"It was labeled as Squaw Creek on an 1858 map of Monroe County," said Alexander Woods, Ph.D., an archaeologist with Colorado State University's Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands under contract with Fort McCoy and the NRB's Cultural Resources project manager. "The name is supposedly due to the presence of a large Ho-Chunk camp nearby. The Ho-Chunk did in fact have a large village site in the area, and it is known as Suukjak Sep. Since the name Squaw Creek was originally referencing the presence of this Ho-Chunk community, it is fitting that the new name reflects this."

The Pine View Recreation Area, formerly named Squaw Creek Recreation Area, was renamed in 1992. The recreation area was renamed because Fort McCoy, as a federal installation, promotes equal opportunity for all people without regard to race, sex, color, religion, national origin, or handicap. Fort McCoy did not have the authority to rename the creek and lake.

McCarty, the installation's Native American coordinator, said the effort to rename the lake and creek increased in recent years.

"The Ho-Chunk Nation was the applicant in (the renaming) process, and Fort McCoy assisted them in completing the paperwork and sending forward to state and federal levels," McCarty said.

Official notification that the renaming the 7.5-mile creek and 14-acre lake was approved came in a letter from Executive Secretary Lou Yost with the U.S. Board on Geographic Names of the U.S. Geological Survey to Monroe County Administrator Cathy Schmit in Sparta, Wis., in mid-May.

"The changes have been made in the Geographic Names Information System, the nation's official geographic names repository," Yost wrote.

"The use of the Ho-Chunk name is especially appropriate given current efforts to revitalize the Ho-Chunk language," McCarty said.

Updates to signage, maps, GIS layers, documents, regulations, and other items to reflect the new name should be completed by the end of the year.

"We also recognize the fact that as regulations come up for review, names will need to be changed at that time so there is a chance that some of these changes may fall outside of the end-of-year time frame," he said.

Fort McCoy and the Ho-Chunk Nation have enjoyed a very positive and productive working relationship, McCarty said. For example, Fort McCoy recently worked with the Ho-Chunk Nation to harvest tamarack trees for the Ho-Chunk Nation to build traditional lodges.

"We will continue to work together into the future to ensure there is never a conflict with military training, prehistoric archaeology, and the rights of the modern Ho-Chunk people," McCarty said. "The U.S. Army is proud of its diversity and inclusivity - it's a source of strength and part of what makes this country great.

"The Ho-Chunk Nation also has a proud history of military service and has a great respect for veterans," McCarty said.

"As most of Suukjak Sep Creek is located on the installation, and with this great relationship, we were happy to work with the Ho-Chunk Nation to make this name change possible."

Ho-Chunk Nation President Wilfrid Cleveland said the lake and creek renaming effort is appreciated.

"It's a great honor to have the leadership of Fort McCoy recognize the rich history and culture of the Ho-Chunk Nation," Cleveland said. "Renaming the lake (and creek) in our sacred language is a show of great respect and also signifies the strong relationship we've had through the years."