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East Lansing's largest park to be renamed in honor of Anishinaabe people

Formerlynamed_abbotRoadPark.jpeg
City of East Lansing
Abbott Road Park in East Lansing will be renamed Azaadiika Park in honor of Anishinaabe people and their language. The city council passed the request on Sept. 20.

The East Lansing City Council approved of the renaming of Abbot Road Park this week. The new name honors Indigenous people who’ve historically gathered in the area.

The soon-to-be named Azaadiikaa Park spans 130 acres and is the largest in the city’s park system.

Nichole Biber is a member of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians. She helped lead the effort to change the name and was on the city’s committee to rename Abbot Road Park.

“As our name we wanted to reflect the many cottonwoods there, and we had a few people we reached to but the name we’re coming to is mostly under the guidance of an elder that’s been in this area a long time,” she said.

They landed on the Anishinaabemowin word for many cottonwoods, azaadiikaa.

Biber said cottonwoods are significant for many Indigenous Peoples across the country and in the area, including her own. Many tribes would gather near water, much like cottonwoods do.

“We’d come down here along with other tribes and follow those waterways and those rivers and that’s what those cottonwoods do, so we wanted to honor that presence in that place,” she said.

However, Biber said the tree is often looked down upon and is often seen as a nuisance, especially when the seed pods fall. She hopes the new name will change negative perceptions on the trees.

“Those seeds, you can see that fluff, that’s a blessing, that's something to see as a privilege and something to be grateful for, that we can witness that every year and know that, that cycle’s continuing,” she said.

As for the pronunciation, she says it may take some practice but it’s worth the effort to learn even.

“Give it a try if there’s someone around who does know it, they’re going to be very gracious in letting you know the right way to say it,” she said.

Biber says the first 'a' makes the 'uh' sound and both double ‘a's in azaadiikaa sound like the ‘a’ in father. The double ‘i’ sounds more like an ‘ee.’

“It’s really important to make the effort because you know that’s the way the language lives, it can’t just be written at the top of a document left to sit there, it needs to be spoken,” Biber said.

A renaming ceremony will be held at the park on Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct. 10.

Melorie Begay is WKAR-FM's weekend host and a general assignment reporter.
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