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LINN COUNTY, IA September 28, 2020 – A thorough review of the name and reference of “squaw” has led the Linn County Conservation Board to approve changing the name Squaw Creek Park to Wanatee Park. After research and consideration of the park’s 998 acre area and history in Linn County, the Board has decided to honor a Native American rather than keep a name considered offensive and disparaging toward a culture. The new name for the park, located off of Iowa Highways 100 and 13 near Marion at 1600 Banner Drive, takes effect immediately.
Linn County Conservation Strategic Plan
When Linn County Conservation approved a strategic plan last year, a goal included Access for All: removing all obstacles limiting access while working to create a culture of inclusion, explains Linn County Conservation Executive Director Dennis Goemaat.
“The Conservation Board supports a spirit of inclusion for everyone, and a name that is derogatory and widely accepted as a slur should no longer be validated,” said Goemaat. Community awareness has increased in regards to unconscious bias through the years toward different cultures, including indigenous people and their history. “We are strengthening efforts to apply inclusivity policies for management of our parks and other areas for future generations,” Goemaat says.
Overwhelming evidence has shown that the word “squaw” is offensive and removal as a name for public buildings and areas around the nation is continuing. In addition, the current climate of addressing social justice issues created additional momentum for support. With all these factors in mind, Linn County Conservation feels now is the time for change.
Conservation Board research shows maps as early at 1859 refer to the creek as Squaw. Despite using an ethnic and sexual slur for the creek name, documents from the State Historical Society reveal a significant connection between the Meskwaki and some Linn County residents in that area at the time. The Sac and Fox were ordered out of Iowa in the middle 1800’s by the Federal Government. In 1852, in response to the Indian Removal Act, local citizens (all men) signed the Marion Resolution petition to Congress showing support to recommend the Meskwaki be permitted to “remain in the Contry [sic] unmolested until such times they can petition the Gov. [sic] for some release or that some action be taken in their behalf”.
Wanatee (pronounced Whon'-uh-tee)
Discussions and consultation with several groups and organizations have taken place regarding a name change. These include the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi of Iowa (Meskwaki Nation), State Archeologist, Iowa State Historical Society, Tallgrass Archeology, and local governments including the Linn County Board of Supervisors. Letters of support by many of these groups included a name change suggestion Wanatee Park, to provide the opportunity to commemorate Native American contributions within Iowa and the nation, rather than use a term that is no longer acceptable in this modern area.
Jean Adeline Morgan Wanatee
Adeline Wanatee (1910-1996) was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 for her significant work in the Meskwaki Nation and in support of women’s rights across the United States. As referenced by the State Historical Society of Iowa:
Born on the Meskwaki Indian Settlement in Tama, she attended the Sac and Fox Day School in Tama, the Flandreau Indian School in South Dakota, and then returned to Tama to attend 8th grade at Tama Public Schools. She and her husband raised seven children on the Settlement.
Over the years, she became a role model and advocate on the state and national level for the rights of women. She is a Meskwaki language specialist and resource for the Smithsonian Institute. Wanatee has served on the Governor's Advisory Committee and was a member of the Iowa Arts Council's "artist-in-the-schools" program. She also chaired the local Meskwaki School Board and was the first woman representative on the local pow-wow association. Nationally, Wanatee was the first woman elected to the Meskwaki Tribal Council, serving two four-year terms. When asked what she would like people to know about her, Wanatee replied, "Where I came from, I am proud that my people never left Iowa, never became prisoners. They are the reason I want to help."
In a letter referencing changing the park name, Judith Bender, Chair of the Sac and Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa, wrote:
“…The Meskwaki Nation applauds your willingness to make changes that honor people through the use of their name, and not diminish them as human beings through the use of derogatory terms. Especially, we thank all who have championed this name change to honor one of our own…”
In 1964, this future park area near Marion was acquired and named after the creek that runs through it by the Conservation Board. Currently, all other Linn County managed areas designated as parks are named for the river or stream connection, including Buffalo Creek Park, Morgan Creek Park, Pinicon Ridge Park.
Changing a county park name is under the authority of the Conservation Board, but changing a river or stream is a more involved process of federal, state, and local jurisdictions. With the support of many organizations, including those referenced above, The Linn County Board of Supervisors will request the U.S. Geologic Survey’s Board of Geographic Names to rename the creek Wanatee Creek. A decision on this request is expected to take several months to a year.
Linn County Conservation’s Wanatee Park has provided numerous recreation opportunities over the years. A variety of wildlife call Wanatee Park home, with wetlands, woodland, and prairie encompassing this unique natural landscape. This park continues to be one of the most popular camping areas with 69 sites within the campground; lodge and shelter rentals to hold numerous events; multi-use trails for hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing and equestrian; a dog exercise area, several picnic areas, playgrounds, and so much more.
Linn County Conservation will work with other jurisdictions, partners, directories, etc. to expedite this park name change. Over the past few years, a comprehensive wayfinding and signage program has been under development and previously budgeted for all of its flagship parks. These, and additional directional highway and street signage will also be phased in over time.
Linn County Conservation Mission Statement
To preserve and protect natural and cultural resources and to improve community through access to parks, trails, open spaces and recreational and educational opportunities that are managed sustainably for the present and future.
Linn County Conservation manages over 8,000 acres of 28 parks, trails, natural areas and preserves. More information at LinnCountyParks.com