UNITED STATES NEWS

Native American translations are being added to more US road signs to promote language and awareness

Dec 20, 2023, 6:30 PM

This photo taken on Dec. 14, 2023 provided by Sarah Burks shows a paper mockup of the street signs ...

This photo taken on Dec. 14, 2023 provided by Sarah Burks shows a paper mockup of the street signs that will go up next year in some parts of Cambridge, Mass. and include the language of the Massachusett Tribe. (Sarah Burks via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Sarah Burks via AP)

 

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — A few years back, Sage Brook Carbone was attending a powwow at the Mashantucket Western Pequot reservation in Connecticut when she noticed signs in the Pequot language.

Carbone, a citizen of the Northern Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island, thought back to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she has lived for much of her life. She never saw any street signs honoring Native Americans, nor any featuring Indigenous languages.

She submitted to city officials the idea of adding Native American translations to city street signs. Residents approved her plan and will install about 70 signs featuring the language of the Massachusett Tribe, which English settlers encountered upon their arrival.

“What a great, universal way of teaching language,” she said of the project done in consultation with a a member of the Massachusett Tribe and other Native Americans.

“We see multiple languages written almost everywhere, but not on municipal signage,” she said. “Living on a numbered street, I thought this is a great opportunity to include Native language with these basic terms that we’re all familiar with around the city.”

Carbone has joined a growing push around the country to use Indigenous translations on signs to raise awareness about Native American communities. It also is way to revive some Native American languages, highlight a tribe’s sovereignty as well as open the door for wider debates on land rights, discrimination and Indigenous representation in the political process.

“We have a moment where there is a search for some reconciliation and justice around Indigenous issues,” said Darren Ranco, chair of Native American Programs at the University of Maine and a citizen of the Penobscot Nation. “The signs represent that, but by no means is that the end point around these issues. My concern is that people will think that putting up signs solves the problem, when in fact, it’s the beginning point to addressing deeper histories.”

At least six states have followed suit, including Iowa, New York, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Signs along U.S. Highway 30 in Iowa include the Meskwaki Nation’s own spelling of the tribe, Meskwakiinaki, near its settlement. In upstate New York, bilingual highway signs in the languages of the Seneca, Onondaga and Tuscarora tribes border highways and their reservations.

In Wisconsin, six of the 11 federally recognized tribes in the state have installed dual language signs. Wisconsin is derived from the Menominee word Wēskōhsaeh, meaning “a good place” and the word Meskousing, which means “where it lies red” in Algonquian.

“Our partnerships with Wisconsin’s Native Nations are deeper than putting up highway signs,” WisDOT Secretary Craig Thompson said in a statement. “We are proud of the longstanding commitment to foster meaningful partnerships focused on our future by providing great care and consideration to our past.”

Minnesota has put up signs in English and the Dakota or Ojibwe languages on roads and highways that traverse tribal lands, while the southeast Alaska community of Haines this summer erected stop, yield, ‘Children at Play’ and street name signs in both English and Tlingit.

Douglas Olerud, the mayor at the time, told the Juneau Empire it was healing for him after hearing for years from Tlingit elders that they were not allowed to use their language when sent to boarding schools.

“This is a great way to honor some of those people that have been working really hard to keep their traditions and keep the language alive, and hopefully they can have some small amount of healing from when they were robbed of the culture,” he said.

In New Mexico, the state transportation department has been working with tribes for years to include traditional names and artwork along highway overpasses. Travelers heading north from Santa Fe pass under multiple bridges with references to Pojoaque Pueblo in the community’s native language of Tewa.

There have also been local efforts in places like Bemidji, Minnesota, where Michael Meuers, a non-Native resident, started the Bemidji Ojibwe Language Project. Since 2009, more than 300 signs in English and Ojibwe have been put up across northern Minnesota, mostly on buildings, including schools. The signs can also be found in hospitals and businesses and are used broadly to spell out names of places and animals, identify things such as elevators, hospital departments, bear crossings — “MAKWA XING” — and food within a grocery store, and include translations for welcome, thank you and other phrases.

“Maybe it’s going to open up conversations so that we understand that we are all one people,” said Meuers, who worked for the Red Lake Nation for 29 years and started the project after seeing signs in Hawaiian on a visit to the state.

The University of Maine put up dual language signs around its main campus. The Native American Programs, in partnership with the Penobscot Nation, also launched a website where visitors can hear the words spoken by language master Gabe Paul, a Penobscot pronunciation guide.

“For me, and for many of our tribal citizens and descendants, it is a daily reminder that we are in our homeland and we should be “at home” at the university, even though it has felt for generations like it can be an unwelcome place,” Ranco said.

But not all efforts to provide dual language signs have gone well.

In New Zealand, the election of a conservative government in October has thrown into doubt efforts by transportation officials to start using road signs written in both English and the Indigenous Māori language.

Waka Kotahi, the New Zealand Transport Agency, earlier this year proposed making 94 road signs bilingual to promote the revitalization of the language.

But many conservatives have been irked by the increased use of Māori words by government agencies. Thousands wrote form submissions opposing the road sign plan, saying it could confuse or distract drivers.

The effort in Cambridge has been welcomed as part of what is called the participatory budgeting process, which allows residents to propose ideas on spending part of the budget. Carbone proposed the sign project and, together with a plan to make improvements to the African American Heritage Trail, it was approved by residents.

“I am so excited to see the final products and the initial run of these signs,” Carbone said. “When people traveling around Cambridge see them, they will feel the same way. It will be just different enough to be noticeable but not different enough that it would cause a stir.”

Carbone and others also hope the signs open a broader discussion of Native American concerns in the city, including representation in the city government, funding for Native American programs as well as efforts to ensure historical markers offer an accurate portrayal of Indigenous people.

When she first heard about the proposal, Sarah Burks, preservation planner at the Cambridge Historical Commission, acknowledged there were questions. Which signs would get the translations? How would translation be handled? Would this involve extensive research?

The translation on streets signs will be relatively easy for people to understand, she said, and inspire residents to “stop and think” about the Massachusett Tribe and to “recognize the diversity of people in our community.”

“It will be attention-grabbing in a good way,” she said of the signs, which are expected to go up early next year.

___

Associated Press writers Nick Perry in Wellington, New Zealand; Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Mark Thiessen in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.

 

United States News

Associated Press

Body parts of 2 people found in Long Island park and police are trying to identify them

BABYLON, N.Y. (AP) — Police on New York’s Long Island were trying to identify human remains found in a popular suburban park that appear to be from a man and a woman. A girl walking to school Thursday morning found a severed arm on the side of the road at Southards Pond Park, about 25 […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

Train derailment leaves cars on riverbank or in water; no injuries, hazardous materials reported

BETHLEHEM, Pa. (AP) — Authorities say a train derailment in eastern Pennsylvania has left some railroad cars along a riverbank Saturday morning and at least one partially in the river itself. Dispatchers in Northampton County said the derailment was reported at 7:14 a.m. in Lower Saucon Township. Authorities said it was unclear how many cars […]

2 hours ago

Associated Press

An arrest has been made and charges filed in Pennsylvania slaying of pregnant Amish woman

SPARTANSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A Pennsylvania man was arrested Saturday and charged with the slaying of a pregnant Amish woman whose body was found last week. Shawn C. Cranston, 52, of Corry, has been charged with criminal homicide, criminal homicide of an unborn child, burglary and criminal trespass, Pennsylvania State Police said. He was denied […]

3 hours ago

FILE - Alexander Smirnov, second from right, leaves the courthouse on Feb. 20, 2024, in Las Vegas. ...

Associated Press

How clean is the dirt on Hunter Biden? A key Republican source is charged with lying to the FBI

WASHINGTON (AP) — Alexander Smirnov was cast by Republicans as one of the FBI’s most trusted informants, offering a “highly credible” account of brazen public corruption by Joe Biden that formed a pillar of the House impeachment investigation of the Democratic president. Then, last month, the script changed dramatically. charged with lying to the FBI, […]

4 hours ago

Associated Press

Powerful storm in California and Nevada shuts interstate and dumps snow on mountains

RENO, Nev. (AP) — A powerful blizzard raged overnight into Saturday in the Sierra Nevada as the biggest storm of the season shut down a long stretch of Interstate-80 in California and gusty winds and heavy rain hit lower elevations, leaving tens of thousands of customers without power. Up to 10 feet (3 meters) of […]

9 hours ago

Musher Dutch Johnson, a kennel manager at The August Foundation for Alaska Racing Dogs, runs a dog ...

Associated Press

Alaska’s Iditarod dogs get neon visibility harnesses after 5 were fatally hit while training

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The Iditarod, the annual sled dog race celebrating Alaska’s official state sport, is set to get underway Saturday with a new focus on safety after five dogs died and eight were injured in collisions with snowmobiles while training on shared, multi-use trails. For the first time, mushers who line up for […]

12 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

...

Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Native American translations are being added to more US road signs to promote language and awareness