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Dual language sign welcomes people to the Sokaogon Chippewa Community in English and Ojibwe

Sokaogon Chippewa Community Chairman Robert VanZile unveils the new dual-language highway sign.
Katie Thoresen
/
WXPR
Sokaogon Chippewa Community Chairman Robert VanZile unveils the new dual-language highway sign.

No matter where you go in the country or state, highway signs for places are fairly uniform.

Giant green signs with big block letters in white mark the location letting you know what town or city you’re in.

A new sign installed Monday in Mole Lake prominently reads Sokaogon Chippewa Community with the tribe’s seal beside it.

But different from the vast majority of similar signs you find across the state, this one includes the tribe’s name in their own Ojibwemoin language.

 “Zaaga'inganiin,” said Chairman Robert VanZile reading from the sign. “It’s a spiritual, cultural light that was in the water. It’s part of our teaching and our migration stories, teachings that came about a long, long time ago.”

Sokaogon Chippewa Community Chairman Robert VanZile was proud to unveil the new sign Friday alongside community members and officials from federal and state transportation offices.

“It’s very positive. It’s heartwarming to see these dual language signs come to life. It’s an ideal that’s should have happened a long time ago, but it’s happening today and that’s a good thing,” he said.

The Sokaogon Chippewa Community is the fourth tribe in Wisconsin to install a dual-language sign.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation launched the initiative in 2021.

Wisconsin DOT Secretary Craig Thompson would like to work with all of the tribes within the state to get these signs up.

“It’s become a priority and bring back native languages. This is one way we could help and participate in that, but it’s also important for people in Wisconsin and people traveling through Wisconsin to know our history, know when they’re entering these sovereign nations, and to see it in the initial language. We think it’s important on all those fronts,” said Thompson.

And it is that sovereignty that VanZile hopes people will think of when they see that sign.

“I think it’s important to share our language, our culture, our identity, along with our sovereignty. When you have your language, your culture, and your identity you have sovereignty. That’s what we want to express to people,” said VanZile.

Marisa VanZile is the Sokaogon Chippewa Community Cultural Committee President who helped work on the signs.

She spoke to fellow tribal members at the ceremony.

“These signs are a big mark in the direction of preserving our culture and our language. To me what this says is, ‘Man, this is something to be proud of.’ You should all be proud of yourselves and give you the encouragement you need to learn your language,” she said.

Two smaller dual-language signs will also be installed for Dewe’igan-madwewe-agaaming-zaaga’igan or Mole Lake and Mushgigagamong-ziibins or Swamp Lake.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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