Ojibwe translations are being added to seven river crossing signs in Cook County this spring
Cook County Highway Department
Local

Ojibwe translations are being added to seven river crossing signs in Cook County this spring

In a few months, the Cook County Highway Department will install seven bilingual river crossing signs in Cook County, stretching from Tofte to Grand Portage. 

The new signs will be in English and Ojibwe and installed at Temperance River, Cascade River, Little Devil Track River, Grand Portage Creek, N. Brule River, S. Brule River, and Portage Brook. 

“It’s throughout the county, throughout ceded territory. That’s really important,” Erik Redix, the Grand Portage Ojibwe Language Coordinator, said. “I think it’s really powerful that it’s not just on (the) reservation.” 

A photo of six of the seven river crossing signs is below:

Redix and the Grand Portage Band of Lake Superior Chippewa began conversations with the Cook County Highway Department months ago to explore opportunities to incorporate or add Ojibwe language to signs throughout Cook County. 

Robbie Hass, the Cook County highway engineer, said he was immediately receptive to the idea. “I think it’s great. As everyone knows, we’re up in ceded territory up here. And there’s a lot of history up here, so why not reflect that.”

Redix said the Grand Portage Band recently passed a five-year plan to focus on initiatives to revitalize the Ojibwe language. “And part of that is increased signage.”

A few years ago, in 2021, the Grand Portage Band worked with partners to install 1854 Treaty boundary signs in Minnesota. In recent years, there has been a growing push around the country to use Indigenous translations on signs to raise awareness about Native American communities. Nearby St. Louis County installed bilingual Highway signs in 2014 following an agreement with the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. 

Redix and the Grand Portage Band are again actively working with the Minnesota Department of Transportation to explore options for signs on Hwy 61 between Grand Marais and Grand Portage. He said working with the State has been a slower process, but in the meantime, he is excited that the Cook County Highway Department wants to move forward with the river crossing signs this spring. 

Hass said he chose the seven river crossing locations to be intentional with the location and add the Ojibwe names to some of the larger river crossings in Cook County. “I want meaningful things. So these are very meaningful.”

Redix said, “Miigwech to Robbie for kind of understanding that aspect of it.”

An installation date for the signs has yet to be determined, but Hass said the “plan is this spring/summer.”

Reflecting on the significance of the seven river crossing signs, Redix said, “If we can get visitors especially, but even residents to, to start thinking about the Ojibwe, these names, these places, that’d be a really good thing.” 

WTIP’s Kalli Hawkins spoke with Erik Redix, the Grand Portage Ojibwe Language Coordinator, and Robbie Hass, the Cook County highway engineer, about the collaborative seven river crossing sign project. In the interview, Redix shares the pronunciation and meaning behind each of the river crossings. The audio is below.