Bilingual signage project promotes cultural awarenessIn recent years it has become increasingly important to the Fond du Lac Band to preserve and promote cultural awareness – particularly among the reservation’s young people. A new project sets out to do just that, in a very public way.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
In recent years it has become increasingly important to the Fond du Lac Band to preserve and promote cultural awareness – particularly among the reservation’s young people. A new project sets out to do just that, in a very public way.
Fond du Lac Planning Director Jason Hollinday unveiled this week the prototype of a new form of bilingual signage that will identify selected place names around the reservation in both English and Ojibwe.
Hollinday said the idea for bilingual signage originally came from a couple of different sources.
“It’s something I’d thought about,” he said, “and the tribal council also indicated it was interested in doing something like this, as well as our Ojibwe language group.”
He said what really got the ball rolling, however, was the desire to change the big signs posted at the entrances to the reservation along Highways 2 and 210 that currently state, “Entering the Fond du Lac Reservation.”
“They were going to have to be changed anyway to conform with MnDOT’s new reflectivity standards,” said Hollinday. “And so, we asked about changing the wording to ‘Welcome to the Fond du Lac Reservation’ instead of ‘Entering the Fond du Lac Reservation,’ and – at the same time – we asked about making them bilingual as well.”
Hollinday said the request for the change in signage started at MnDOT’s district office in Duluth, and eventually it moved on to the central office in St. Paul.
“Now,” he said, “it’s gone from the regional level to the national, because they have to get permission further and further up the chain. But they’re working on it, and I’m appreciative of that.”
As Hollinday was updating the tribal council and the local language group about the progress of the reservation’s entrance signage, the council asked about the possibility of also including bilingual road and place name signs on the reservation.
“The use of bilingual signage reinforces the commitment to language preservation,” stated Fond du Lac Chairwoman Karen Diver. “It also is a bridge between Fond du Lac’s history and present homeland.”
Hollinday said it was decided to leave the street signs alone for now because that would be such a massive undertaking and they decided to start with a sampling of place names first.
The language group had already developed a list of places they’d like to see marked with bilingual signage, and Hollinday asked them to pick out their top 12 choices. Of those, eight were selected in Carlton County and two in St. Louis County.
Hollinday then discussed the concept with Carlton County Transportation Director Wayne Olson. Together, the county and the reservation developed a memorandum of understanding (MOA) regarding who would take responsibility for which parts of the project, with the reservation reimbursing the county for the production, installation, maintenance and replacement of the signs.
Last fall, the Carlton County Board passed a resolution accepting the MOA.
“The idea was to get started on the project last fall,” said Hollinday, “but with all of the flood [recovery efforts], the project had to be postponed. We wanted to get the roads fixed and people back in their homes first.”
After the bulk of the initial flood issues had been addressed by the reservation, Hollinday then gave Olson a list of the proposed locations for the bilingual signs, and together they identified the first five to be produced.
“The signs will have an English meaning as a common local name, but the real meaning can be much more,” said Olson. “For example, ‘Chi-awasonigaming’ will be translated on the sign to mean Rice Portage Lake, but also has meanings related to portages based on one’s location.”
Hollinday said a similar process of discussion regarding the project is currently under way with St. Louis County as well.
In Minnesota, Hollinday said the Fond du Lac and White Earth reservations have been at the forefront of this initiative toward erecting bilingual signage. He said both belong to a group called ACTT (Advocacy Council for Tribal Transportation), comprised of all of the bands in Minnesota, along with representatives from the counties, the state and MnDOT.
“We go over issues such as bilingual signs, vegetation management along the roadsides using herbicides – those types of things,” he explained. “White Earth has started using bilingual language for their own signs, and we have here, too, but now that group is leading the charge with the MnDOT signs.”
Hollinday said the reservation is hoping to order the first of the bilingual signs within the week, and depending on how long it takes to fabricate them, they will be erected as soon as the weather allows.
To begin with, the first five locations to be marked with bilingual signs will be Perch Lake, Portage Lake, Miller Lake, Cedar Lake and Hardwood Lake, all within the bounds of the reservation. Hollinday said the band is also hoping to eventually erect a bilingual “Welcome to Fond du Lac” sign near the convenience store, plus signs on Deadfish Lake, Big Lake and Rice Portage Lake.
“This will be an interesting trial for FDL efforts to grow their cultural heritage with their members and the public,” commented Olson. “For the county transportation department, we can also learn more about some of the recommendations for traffic safety. The Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MMUTCD, our primary signing guidance) encourages limiting signs that are not required for the safety of the traveling public for a number of reasons – things like limiting the hazard of fixed objects for errant vehicles, minimizing the possible distractions of too many signs, or spacing too close together that may steer the driver’s attention to reading signs instead of on the road. We would like to hear reaction to bilingual signing, positive or negative.”
Olson said members of the county board have endorsed the concept, however, and he is optimistic that a positive response may demonstrate yet another way for the county to cooperate with and assist tribal leadership in helping their members learn more about their history and the Ojibwe language.