Head northwest out of Madison into the Driftless region of Wisconsin, and every other business is Kickapoo-something.
Kickapoo Wild Adventures takes tourists down the Kickapoo River in rafts and kayaks. The Kickapoo Trading Post sells antique signs and stoneware crocks across from the Kickapoo Corners Family Restaurant & Gifts. These are just down the way from Kickapoo Realty and the Kickapoo Kwik Stop gas station.
Lester Randall, chairman of the Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, drove through the Driftless last June accompanied by a University of Kansas researcher. The signs amused them as they stopped to chat and drop off cards in restaurants and gas stations.
“Everything was named Kickapoo!” Randall said. “It was unbelievable. ... I didn’t understand that they didn’t know we are a people. The name means they’re talking about us.”
The disconnect between place names and the tribes they came from is an old story for Indigenous people like Randall. Most folks never think to question the origins of Native names, who had those names first and who still uses them now.
That’s why some in Viroqua were surprised when, in spring of last year, TJ Semanchin and Caleb Nicholes announced they planned to rename Kickapoo Coffee Roasters.
“We claimed a name that was never ours to take,” Semanchin and Nicholes wrote in a public statement. “The decision to use their name ... was an act of appropriation. In an effort to right that wrong, we have decided to change our name.”
Amidst ongoing discussions about disparaging school mascots, the Kansas City Chiefs’ “tomahawk chop” and efforts to preserve Indigenous culture, two local businesses have announced plans to choose a new, non-Native name. Six months after Kickapoo published its letter, the new Winnebago Arts Café, a music venue on Madison’s east side, released a similar statement.
Owners John and Jake DeHaven formally apologized to the Ho-Chunk Nation and the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska. (The Ho-Chunk were known as the Wisconsin Winnebago Tribe until 1993.) The DeHavens said they would encourage questions and publicly pledged to be more thoughtful.
“Winnebago is not just a street. The Winnebago are a people,” read a letter the DeHavens posted on Oct. 21. “We had no right to use their name.”
Neither members of the Ho-Chunk nor the Kickapoo requested these changes, though both companies were quietly nudged in that direction by others. Kickapoo Coffee and The Winnebago both previously announced January 2020 as a deadline, but neither has announced a new name.
The challenges these companies face and the range of responses from their communities reflect larger questions about history, education and context when it comes to Native American culture and how much of it has been erased. Randall noticed that when he was in Wisconsin last summer.
“We went to all these store owners in Kickapoo, in the township,” Randall said. “A lot of people were concerned, they thought we were making them change their name. We said no, that’s not the case.”
The word “Kickapoo” means “he who moves here and there.” What’s gotten lost is the “he.”
“They didn’t think Kickapoo were a people, they thought it was just a river,” Randall said. “Nobody understands that Kickapoo are a people.”
People, then place
Native names pepper the state of Wisconsin from Milwaukee to Menomonie. Madison resides on the ancestral lands of the Ho-Chunk, a Siouan-speaking tribe whose name means “people of the big voice” or “people of the sacred voice.”
As white settlers forcibly removed Native people from their land and Native children from their families, the connections between people and place loosened.
“The pain of the Indigenous tribes in the United States is they had their culture removed,” said Dana Thompson. Thompson is a lineal descendant of the Wahpeton-Sisseton and Mdewakanton Dakota. With her partner Sean Sherman, she runs The Sioux Chef in Minneapolis, a company devoted to Indigenous foods; the two also founded the nonprofit NATIFS (North American Traditional Indigenous Food Systems).
That cultural removal, combined with what Thompson described as a colonized education, is one reason why decades on, non-Native business owners looking for a catchy title for their citrus-flavored soft drink or India pale ale take Native names without thinking.
“The definition of appropriation is when a colonist or someone in a privileged situation has the opportunity to profit off something, and they use an at-risk community or a community that’s been violated in some way,” Thompson said. “A lot of organizations don’t even know they’re doing it. It’s so common in America to appropriate Indigenous culture.”
Carrie Bohman teaches a Wisconsin First Nations course for one semester each year at West High School. The erasure of non-dominant cultures comes up in class all the time.
“One of the first things I do in class is ask, ‘What is your personal relationship to the earth around you, the place around you?’” Bohman said. “A lot of kids go to ownership. It’s very Western, placing your name on it. We have to make students aware of who was in this place before them.”
Bohman, who is white, works with students on history as well as current events, and when the Kickapoo Coffee story broke last year she taught it in class. She said “white guilt” feels like it absolves non-Natives of doing something when they see or contribute to appropriation. But finding ways to be a good ally isn’t always easy.
“It’s very complex, very gray sometimes,” Bohman said. “Do you legislate things? Do you work with the (Indigenous) nation near you to change the name of something, have them work with you?”
Thompson’s focus is on how to use food as a mechanism for healing trauma. She lauded business owners like Kickapoo for making “small incremental steps, which aren’t small to those business owners.”
“It’s a huge gift to our whole culture that they’re even thinking about this,” she said. “It’s important to raise awareness of this, the facets of this trauma, as an economic and socioeconomic issue. ... True courage doesn’t happen without vulnerability. They’re stepping out and offering this amount of money to try to right this wrong.”
He who wanders
In 2005, Kickapoo Coffee’s owners named their roastery in honor of a tributary of the Wisconsin River that winds for 126 miles through the Driftless. Kickapoo sells whole roasted beans to grocers, and there are Kickapoo Coffee cafes in Viroqua, Milwaukee and Bayfield. This summer, the company plans to open a new café on the Capitol Square.
“I accepted the local romantic folktale that the word Kickapoo was a Native American word that was just in reference to the nature of the river — ‘he who wanders here to there,’” Semanchin said. “That was the story I accepted.”
That wasn’t the whole story. The Kickapoo are a federally recognized sovereign nation, with tribes in Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Mexico. As Kickapoo Coffee began to grow its geographic footprint, Semanchin and Nicholes, both of whom are white, became increasingly uncomfortable.
“If folks didn’t have that immediate connection to the name, they would either know the Kickapoo were a people or have no idea what that word is,” Semanchin said. “If their first introduction to the word Kickapoo was the name of a coffee company, that’s the textbook definition of appropriation.”
One motivating force behind Kickapoo Coffee’s public announcement came from Shizue RocheAdachi, Kickapoo’s brand and marketing manager. RocheAdachi is the only person on staff who identifies as a person of color — she’s a quarter Japanese — and she’s spent her career since graduating from Yale University in 2015 in predominantly white rural areas.
“I was being asked to speak more from a perspective as a person of color, carrying more of that burden post-election,” said RocheAdachi, who moved to Viroqua with her partner three years ago.
The use of the Kickapoo name flagged for her early on “because these conversations of race are personally really important to me,” she said. “And in this place I’ve come to call home, we often underestimate rural white spaces to be beacons of progressive thought and inclusivity.”
In late summer 2018, RocheAdachi joined an internal team at Kickapoo Coffee Roasters to explore a name change. She reached out to tribal councils with emails and phone calls over the fall and winter. For a while, these went unanswered.
“It’s never the burden of an Indigenous nation to help other folks understand what appropriation is,” she said. “But we wanted that to be a pathway to a relationship.”
In April Kickapoo Coffee announced the change, which finally put the company on Randall’s radar. Last June, he visited for the first time with Jenny Flinders, a research project manager at the Center for Public Partnerships and Research at the University of Kansas. Flinders and Randall opened a tribal history museum on the Kickapoo reservation in Kansas last summer.
“The ultimate thing that led Lester to connect with that region is this project we’re engaged in to not just research and learn more about Kickapoo history, but to actually go and follow that ancestral trail, be in those places and talk to people,” Flinders said. “Wisconsin is an important piece of that story. Wisconsin is the last point in this historical story where all of the Kickapoo were still one tribe.”
Following that first visit, Kickapoo Coffee Roasters wanted Randall to tell his people’s story and answer questions for residents of the Kickapoo Valley. Last December, Randall and Flinders joined RocheAdachi onstage at the Historic Temple Theatre of Viroqua for a “fireside chat” in front of 600 people.
“The community showed up and engaged with curiosity to hear what chairman Lester had to share,” Semanchin said, “to learn directly from a representative of a Kickapoo nation about their culture and history, that they exist.”
Some assumed the tribe asked for a name change. On the contrary, RocheAdachi said.
“They didn’t know who we were,” she said. “They didn’t know about the coffee company, they didn’t know about the Kickapoo River here.”
Most feedback has been positive. Some lionized Semanchin and Nicholes as “woke white guys,” RocheAdachi said, which felt awkward. There were a few angry emails, too.
“They felt we might have turned our backs on local pride,” Semanchin said. “Folks refer to themselves as Kickapoogian. There’s a resonance with that name, that title and identity.”
Semanchin’s goal was to approach these conversations in a spirit of humility.
“We’re not here to preach, or say we’re doing it the right way — obviously we didn’t,” he said. “But we can say, this is how we got to this decision, this is why we think it’s important. We hope you can support us, and if not we understand.”
Last year, Semanchin, RocheAdachi and Jamie Lamonde, Kickapoo’s director of marketing and sales, went up to the Bayfield café, which is located near a reservation of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa. RocheAdachi was struck by the Indigenous baristas who work at the coffee shop, and the relief and excitement she heard from them about changing the name.
“Seeing the weight those individuals were carrying within their community ... it was so powerful to me personally,” RocheAdachi said.
“That feedback was the most affirming I could imagine,” Semanchin said. “One, that we were in the wrong, we were perpetuating a mistake. And two, that we’re stepping into making this right.”
Sons of Norway
In spring of 2018, brothers John and Jake DeHaven purchased the former Sons of Norway lodge, 4,000 sq. ft. at 2262 Winnebago St. on Madison’s east side. The goal was to create a coffee house, restaurant, bar and performance space, one that would be inclusive and accessible.
“We didn’t want it to be a jazz club or a punk club, anything specific,” said Jake DeHaven, a project manager at an architecture firm. His brother runs the club.
“We were working through names as a team and we landed on the street name. We thought, ‘OK, that could be anything.’ It felt like the most ambiguous name.”
The Ho-Chunk Nation in Wisconsin rejected the name “Winnebago” in 1993. It’s derived from an Algonquian word that means “people of the dirty water,” which some say came from the fishy smell of Lake Winnebago in the summer.
The name Winnebago “is not who we are,” said Dan Brown, executive manager of Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison. “That was something the federal government imposed on our tribe. From the beginning of time we’ve known ourselves as Ho-Chunk.”
Last fall, several things happened in quick succession. A local band called Dumpster Dick posted on social media that it would no longer play the venue until the Winnebago Arts Café changed its name, issued a public apology and paid reparations.
Tone Madison founder and editor Scott Gordon began looking into the issue. On Oct. 22, Gordon reported that for several months, a local Indigenous person who is Anishinaabe (Ojibwe), Métis, and Onyota’a:ka (Oneida) had been messaging the DeHavens, pointing out problems with the name.
“It is a really nice space and they’ve had some really good events,” Gordon said. “But it’s clear they sat on this for a long time. Someone had reached out to them in detail with context about why the name was an issue, and they hadn’t really addressed it.”
The social media response after the band’s post and Tone’s story was “intense,” Jake DeHaven said. “It was humbling to go through. There were messages sent about how racist we are, and how this is the problem of business owners being white privileged people.
“There was a time when it was cool to hate us. That was a hard time. It was really jarring for all of us.”
The DeHavens hurriedly announced an impending name change. But it was more complicated than they thought, with shows booked months in advance and complications with city licenses.
“We didn’t know what all was entailed,” Jake said. “We were naïve enough to say we could do it in three months.”
Two days after Tone’s story ran, the Winnebago dropped its restaurant/café hours. John changed the name on Facebook to “the venue on Winnebago Street.” They have yet to pick a new name. (Repeated attempts to reach John DeHaven were unsuccessful.)
Through press representative Ken Luchterhand, Ho-Chunk Nation President Marlon WhiteEagle said in a statement that he supports the venue.
“I don’t believe any disrespect was intended by the owners of the Winnebago Arts Café,” WhiteEagle wrote. “They have indicated that they are culturally aware and intend to change the name of their business. We support them for trying to do the right thing, along with all people who have voiced their concerns about paying proper respect for Ho-Chunk people.”
Brown had similar thoughts.
“It’s really – flattering is probably not the right word?” he said. “It shows a lot of respect. It makes the Ho-Chunk feel good that there is a sensitivity to this issue.
“A lot of these sorts of things ... they derive out of ignorance, and I don’t mean that in a disparaging way,” Brown added. “You don’t know what you don’t know. They didn’t mean to be disrespectful. That wasn’t their intention.”
What’s in a name
Kickapoo Coffee Roasters isn’t the first company of its kind to do a major rebranding in light of cultural sensitivity concerns. In 2007, the Michigan-based Beaner’s Coffee franchise changed its name to Biggby, having failed to realize its name was a derogatory term for Mexican Americans. At the time, the company estimated that decision cost them over a million dollars.
Kickapoo Coffee Roasters has chosen a new name but is keeping quiet. (“It’s like telling someone the name of your kid before they’re born,” RocheAdachi said.) Over the past few months, the company has devoted staff hours and finances to the series of changes consumers will see in late spring, including new biodegradable packaging. Semanchin estimated the new logo, new signage in the cafes and new merchandise would add up to more than $100,000.
The changes will “be a better reflection of what makes us interesting and speaks to our values, our personality,” Semanchin said. “Our company is founded on issues of supporting marginalized, specifically Indigenous farmers around the world. We have that intention and the awareness of the larger historical context. And yet, within our walls, the decision we made as a young company was contrary to those values.
“To come to terms with that ... to accept not just the initial mistake but the perpetuation of it, has been a process of coming to terms with my own white privilege.”
On Madison’s east side, the future is less clear for the Winnebago. By all accounts, little progress has been made on the name change. Local theater companies, salsa bands, touring acts and “Science on Tap” continue to hold events. Longtime music promoter and booker Toffer Christensen has been booking shows there, with four in December and January. He said he loves the space.
“I don’t think a name change would make it difficult at all to book new shows and wouldn’t negatively affect the shows currently announced,” Christensen wrote in an email. “It might actually help get the venue more PR and end up being a positive move overall.”
Jake DeHaven said the events of the last few months have been “a learning experience.”
“John and I are sensitive people,” he said. “It’s very scary to feel like you are the oppressor, you are the problem. ... Nonetheless it’s important. I don’t think anybody was wrong saying what they did, calling us out.”
Brown, at Ho-Chunk Gaming, said these kinds of stories can touch nerves with the Ho-Chunk people. But he’s more invested in the history center the Ho-Chunk are building on their campus and community outreach, “to create sensitivity and tolerance of the Ho-Chunk, help them understand the things we’ve been through.”
Some other cities have been moving toward more Indigenous names. In Minneapolis, the Department of Natural Resources moved to change the name of Lake Calhoun (named for a proponent of slavery and Native American removal) to its Dakota name, “Bde Maka Ska.” In Vancouver, officials changed the name of a downtown plaza to šxwƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square to honor the city’s First Nations predecessors.
Brown would support the city changing the name of Winnebago Street, he said. Officials might consider doing the same for Cherokee Bay (“there’s no Cherokee around here, we’re the Aboriginal people”) and Madison’s lakes, whose names have no connection to Native people.
Those are discussions for another day, Brown said. Meanwhile, name changes at small businesses like Kickapoo Coffee Roasters and the Winnebago Arts Café offer “teaching moments.”
“That there’s an understanding, a community effort to address this issue shows a lot of progress,” Brown said. “As we move forward in the city of Madison, people are beginning to understand who the Ho-Chunk are, the pride people feel about this incredible tribe that has existed here.
“We were removed four times ... we suffered federal policy designed for extermination, removal, assimilation, deculturalization. Once that’s out there for the masses and you have a coffee shop with a disparaging name, will it be viewed negatively?
“Native nations are re-establishing ourselves as who we are,” Brown added. “We have a very proud heritage, a proud history. If we’re going to make change, we’re going to need to dig down, dive deeper.” ￼
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