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Minocqua board approves change for controversial road name

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Wisconsin DNR

Warning Note: Some people may find the language in this story offensive.

MINOCQUA – Despite protests from several residents, the Minocqua town board Tuesday voted 4-1 to rename East and West Squaw Lake Road respectively to East and West Amber Road.

Town chairman Mark Hartzheim said the term “squaw” is offensive to many, especially to Native Americans. Since the state and federal agencies changed the lake name to Amber Lake, it follows that the two town roads should also be renamed, he said, adding, “It doesn’t make sense to me” not to do it.

Others, like resident Kathy Schroeder, said she and many others don’t consider the term derogatory. The lake has been officially known as Squaw Lake for decades. Before that, she said, it was known as Scrub Lake.

A man from the audience affirmed, “None of us have used that term” in a derogatory manner. He said he never would have bought his property 30 years ago if he had thought the term was derogatory. Another man spoke in favor of the road change to remain consistent with the lake change.

The town chairman said he received a half dozen phone calls protesting the name change. A number of e-mails on the issue were sent to the town office also.

The lake association polled its members and Amber emerged as the favorite of the choices if it was to be renamed. However, another woman spoke up to say at least 100 people signed a petition opposing the name change.

The Lac du Flambeau town board had already changed the name of that portion of Squaw Lake Road that lies within that township to Amber Lake Road. LdF town chairman Matt Gaulke said he favored the road name being the same through both townships. Amber Lake itself borders Oneida and Vilas counties about halfway between Fifield and Minocqua.

The local issue mirrors a trend happening elsewhere. Some 30 sites in Wisconsin and nearly 650 across the U.S. use the place name, according to the U.S. Department of Interior website. Many are under review for a change by local governmental bodies.

The Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Chippewa Indians originally had asked the Wisconsin Geographic Names Council to change the name of the lake and nearby creek to Ikwe Lake and Ikwe Creek, but then offered Amber as a name after discussions with the lake association.

The state a year ago approved the new name and sent the request to the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. The name became official at state and national levels once the federal agency approved it.

Oneida land information office director Michael Romportl said about 100 letters will be sent to residents on those two roads, notifying them of the name change. Residents along private easement roads with the same name will be asked to also make a name change. However, they cannot use Amber in the new name, as too many roads with the same name can be confusing for First Responders and police.

Supervisor Sue Heil, who voted with the majority, said she’s had to make address changes twice over the years. She said, “It’s not that difficult or that big of a deal.” Most bills come with a line asking if there is a new address. In a response to a concern raised by Schroeder, town attorney Greg Harold said property deeds, wills and trust documents do not need to be re-recorded to show a new address.

Supervisor Bill Stengl said he understood the memories of the long-time lake residents “are very real” and how attached they are to the name. He agreed making address changes is a hassle, “but not insurmountable.”

“At the end of the day, though the term squaw is offensive,” Stengl said. “If we had a lake or road with the ‘N’ word, it would have been changed long time ago.”

Supervisor John Thompson, who voted against the change, questioned changes being “ramrodded down our throats.” He alluded that the use of “Tomahawk” might be opposed, as some would construe it as a weapon and “something has to be done about that.”

Hartzheim asked twice for a motion to make the change, but no one volunteered. He then made the motion himself, seconded by Stengl.

Director of public works Mark Pertile noted that changing the street signs and the many individual parcel address signs will cost $4,000 to $6,000 for material and labor. The town will pick up the cost of parcel signs.

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