The Mayor’s Commission on Communities of Color in Superior launched discussion of a proposal to rename Moccasin Mike Road on Monday, March 8.
Councilor Jenny Van Sickle, a member of the commission, introduced the measure after the Winterfest Medallion Hunt was canceled this year when those searching for the prize disturbed the Indigenous burial ground on Wisconsin Point. The goal: to end the kind of mockery that leads to an absence of respect and knowledge for the people who originally settle Wisconsin Point.
Van Sickle, an Alaskan Native, said she understands that some don’t see the name of the road as offensive, but there is a real opportunity to restore pride and recognition to Superior’s first families.
“There are always people that are not going to agree with this type of thing,” Commissioner Kat Werchouski, a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said.
“I’m glad this is being worked on,” said Mary Stone-McConnell, whose husband, Mark McConnell, is a descendant of Chief Joseph Osaugie. The trail that pre-existed the road bore the name of the 19th century chief who was among the Indigenous signers of the Treaty of 1854.
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The treaty ceded the land to the United States to maintain hunting and gathering rights, and access to the land, according to Mayor Jim Paine, who has been researching the history.
“They were able to live there for a long time after signing the treaty,” Paine said.
It wasn’t until the 20th century, when U.S. Steel developed a plan to build an ore dock on Wisconsin Point, that the Indigenous settlers were forced to leave, and their ancestors' graves were moved to a mass grave at St. Francis Cemetery in 1918. It was later determined that Wisconsin Point was too sandy to construct an ore dock.
Chief Osaugie was among those who had their grave disinterred on Wisconsin Point and moved to the mass grave near the Nemadji River.
“I would like to thank Councilor Van Sickle for being so open to all of the family’s comments, and some of them, I imagine, were not so nice because any time you bring up Native issues, it raises the temperature of everyone,” Stone-McConnell said.
Van Sickle acknowledged the “raw racism” she’s experienced since making the proposal public has been difficult but said that only made the issue more pressing.
“We are very grateful that the family that has always lived here is finally being consulted because usually we’re the last ones to hear about it,” Stone-McConnell said.
“I’ve been really lucky to be working with descendants that are close to Wisconsin Point and absolutely need to lead the conversation,” Van Sickle said. “I think the best-case scenario is that this road is named and pronounced in the Ojibwe language (so) that we can more respectfully and more broadly talk about the history and the story (of) Wisconsin Point and the first nations that occupied it.”
No names were suggested Monday, but the commission considered how to move forward with the proposal.
“We could use a lot of help right now from our Indigenous neighbors from my community as well as others, to continue to heal, and try to make it as right as we can,” Werchouski said.
After all, Moccasin Mike Road has long been the only route to Wisconsin Point for Indigenous people as early as the 17th century, according to a marker at the burial grounds.
Paine said his research so far has uncovered no evidence that white people settled on Wisconsin Point; Superior’s first white settlements were along the shore of the Allouez Bay near the Nemadji River.
“It is important to start somewhere,” Werchouski said. “I'm glad that this is being acknowledged and talked about because there’s a lot of layers of government missteps and mistreatment, and layers of things. If a mayor can stand up and say this is not OK, and we need to start somewhere … I think that’s a huge start.”
This story was updated at 11:59 a.m. March 17 to correctly identify the descendant of Chief Joseph Osaugie. It originally posted at 9 a.m. March 11.