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In effort to honor Anishinaabe people, East Lansing resident proposes renaming Abbot Road Park

This image shows a dark green sign with white text that reads, "Abbot Road Park City of East Lansing." There is orange fencing around the sign because of ongoing construction. The sign sits on a patch of green grass. Behind and next to the grass is are dirt trails leading into the park. There is green foliage in the background.
Megan Schellong
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WKAR-MSU
Abbot Road Park sign entrance in East Lansing. The orange fencing is due to an improvement project that was scheduled to begin at the end of July 2022 to relocate a portion of the trail away from the Sanderson Drain and reconstruct a portion of the trail.

Abbot Road Park in East Lansing could soon have a new name.

In August, the city council unanimously voted to forward an application to rename the park.

That’s after a resident made a request to give the community space a name from the Anishinaabemowin language to reflect the history of the Indigenous people who live in the area.

WKAR's Megan Schellong spoke with East Lansing resident, Nichole Biber, who is a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians and is spearheading the renaming effort.

Interview Highlights

On why the proposal to change the park name is coming now

Well, we're requesting it now because it is good timing for when people's attention comes to any Indigenous people from where they are. And here's where we are the three fires of the Anishinaabeg Confederacy. And we have indigenous peoples Day coming up October 10 this year. And so it's an opportunity for people to think a little more deeply about the people, about our language, about our traditions, but in a way that shows that it's connected to the survival of everyone we count as our relations.

On how Biber plans to come up with a new name for the park

Definitely going to the park going to the place itself is really what we envisioned as the right way to find that name, to see what is the strong presence there. ... And sort of like a name, it's with the language, the sounds are each sound and the language, each syllable is telling you something about what it is you're observing what it is that's essential to what it is you're observing. So the only way to come to a name like that is to be there.

On other ways Biber would like to see the City of East Lansing honor Anishinaabe people

That ties with many, many of the issues that are very prevalent among the Anishinaabeg people and all throughout all Indigenous nations, and we're already a pollinator–friendly community in East Lansing, to encourage that even more and make that more visible. ... So, the real actions that are going to help stop harm, things like no pesticides, but also once the harm ends, then the healing can begin.

Interview Transcript

Megan Schellong: Last month, the East Lansing City Council unanimously voted to forward an application to rename Abbot Road Park.

That’s after a resident made a request to give the community space a name from the Anishinaabemowin language to reflect the history of the Indigenous people who live in the area.

Nichole Biber is a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians and is spearheading the renaming effort. She joins me now.

Nichole Biber
Nichole Biber
/
Courtesy
Nichole Biber is an East Lansing resident who proposed changing the name of Abbot Road Park to an Anishinaabemowin-based name.

Nichole, why are you requesting this name change now?

Nichole Biber: Well, we're requesting it now because it is good timing for when people's attention comes to the Indigenous people, from where they are. And here's where we are, the three fires of the Anishinaabeg Confederacy.

And with Indigenous People’s Day coming up October 10th this year, we figured it's a good time to sort of move past just the recognition that is maybe would have stocked with a name or stocked with this as the homelands.

But the reason we'd like for people to know that we're still here, and doing work is the work itself.

And so it's an opportunity for people to think a little more deeply about the people, about our language, about our traditions, but in a way that shows that it's connected to the survival of everyone we count as our relations.

And so it's an opportunity for people to think a little more deeply about the people, about our language, about our traditions, but in a way that shows that it's connected to the survival of everyone we count as our relations.

Schellong: We're talking about the importance of place. Why Abbott Road Park? Is there a significance to the land it sits on?

Biber: Absolutely, this entire area has always been a gathering place for our nations, where we will, where we come together from the different places we are.

And so, we like Abbott Road Park because it is very central in the city itself. It's large, so there's a lot of opportunity for language signage to focus people's attention on their surroundings and making always that throughline like, “Here's the people's language tied to this actual place.”

Schellong: How did you go about coming up with a new name for the park?

Biber: Definitely going to the park, going to the place itself is really what we envisioned as the right way to find that name, to see what is the strong presence there.

And also, because, you know, we want to make sure that, as helpful, as you know, it might be to choose something like, “Oh, it's Anishinaabe park,” it might be in some ways almost a little too easy.

Because if we have a name, that wanting to be open to the place, sort of telling us and letting us know what it is we feel like is the communication with that place.

And sort of like a name, it's with the language, the sounds are, each sound and the language, each syllable, is telling you something about what it is you're observing what it is that's essential to what it is you're observing. So, the only way to come to a name like that is to be there.

Schellong: In what other ways would you like to see the city of East Lansing honor Anishinaabe people?

Biber: Oh, that's a great question that and that's, you know, that that ties with many, many of the issues that are very prevalent among the Anishinaabeg people and all throughout all Indigenous nations, and we're already a pollinator–friendly community in East Lansing, to encourage that even more and make that more visible.

And that's definitely a hope of with the parks, and that there's connecting signage. And there's a way to extend this really focused, not only getting rid of the invasives, but increasing the natives and that pollinator habitat. Extend that even more, we would love to see things like that happen.

So, the real actions that are going to help stop harm, things like no pesticides, but also once the harm ends, then the healing can begin. And so that's what we'd like to see. Anywhere that can happen is where it needs to happen.

So, the real actions that are going to help stop harm, things like no pesticides, but also once the harm ends, then the healing can begin.

Schellong: And in terms of next steps, if the park name change gets approved, what happens next? Are you hoping to submit more applications to rename a variety of local parks?

Biber: Well, we would not mind that. Along with that, though, we really feel like the signage that goes along with this is a really big opportunity that can extend out, let’s say, along the whole Northern Tier Trail because each place is going to have you know that particular character, that particular feeling, but also, you know, so with that there's opportunities to incorporate the language very intentionally, and make that link throughout, like every place here.

Every place here has a presence that when thought of in alignment with our indigenous values, our Anishinabek understanding that is in that language, has something important that's there, has important lives that are there.

So, if we can bring awareness to people more and more and making the connection in the way that Anishinaabemowin instructs us to, then again, that sort of really necessary healing that needs to come at this time, can hopefully keep on flourishing.

Schellong: Nichole Biber is a member of the Little Traverse Bay Band of Odawa Indians. Nichole, thanks for being here.

Biber: Thank you, Miigwech.

Schellong: The committee to rename Abbot Road Park will present its proposed name for the outdoor space to the East Lansing City Council at next Tuesday night’s meeting.

Megan Schellong is the local host and producer for Morning Edition on WKAR.
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