Chicago: An Ojibwe Perspective

Gaa-zhigaagwanzhikaag (Chicago, Illinois) in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), by Charles Lippert and Jordan Engel
Gaa-zhigaagwanzhikaag (Chicago, Illinois) in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), by Charles Lippert and Jordan Engel

This map is the result of extensive research by Charles Lippert. Charles has compiled a list of over one hundred Anishinaabemowin toponyms for the Chicago area, only a handful of which were able to fit on this map due to its scale. Below, he describes the process used for this map:

There are four classes of names shown on this map:
1) Names that are historical and well documented were the easiest to collect and reconstruct. These names were gleaned from a combination of local histories written during the late 1800s, treaty documents, early French maps, and even later maps such as Tardieu (1820), Tanner (1823), and Young (1838). These names include Waakaa’igan (Waukegan : “Fort” or “House”, after a French garrison that was located in the vicinity), Zaagiinying-ziibi (DuPage River : “River at the Lesser Outlet” referring to the mouth of the DuPage River being located near the outlet of the Des Plaines River, which is smaller than the outlet of the Kankakee River), and Dootoogang-aki-ziibi (Kankakee River : “Marshland River” after the Great Kankakee Swamp). Sometimes the recorded names were incomplete, but clues such as the description of the Great Kankakee Swamp being described as a “mother’s breasts that feeds her people” helped as a boggy swamp is called a “dootoogan” while a breast is called a “doodoosh” in Anishinaabemowin.

2) Based on Anishinaabe naming patterns, for features that wouldn’t have existed in the documents from the 1700s and the 1800s, names were generated to fit the Anishinaabe naming patterns. These names include Gichi-onigaming (Cicero : “At the Great Portage” after the Great Chicago Portage, which went through what today is Cicero, and was replaced by the Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal), Gichi-mitigwakiing (Aurora : “In the Big Woods” after the Grand Bois region that it is in), and Bagesaanimizhikaaning (Schaumburg : “At the Plum Grove” after the Plum Grove that was prominently identified).

3) Names to describe the functionality or the utility. Some are found on old documents (such as Nabagisago-mikana-aazhoganing (Elgin : “At the Plank Road Bridge” after the Chicago-to-Milwaukee Plank Road’s river crossing), while others were newly generated, such as Zaaga’amoo-ziibiikaadeng (Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal : “Defecation Canal”).

4) A modern combination of the above 3, along with 1 other naming technique. After the Anishinaabe population, through treaties, were pushed out the Chicago region, Anishinaabe peoples from other area moved in with the Euro-American settlers, first as trade negotiators in the mid-1800s after the Black Hawk War, then later as part of the general population working and living in and around Chicago, writing back home in northern Wisconsin, northern Michigan, and southern Ontario. This trend was accelerated in during the Indian Termination Era that was from the mid-1940s to the mid-1960s, forcing many Anishinaabeg off Indian Reservations in the US and into large cities, such as Minneapolis, St. Louis, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, and even New York. In claiming these cities as their “new home”, these Anishinaabeg began giving Anishinaabe names to these places. These displaced Anishinaabeg were bilingual in Anishinaabemowin and in English, and many began using these traditional naming practices along with an additional ways to name places, based on puns. These pun-based toponyms include Shevlin, MN, as “Gwaaba’andaawangaakwa’igaang” meaning “At the Shoveling Dirt Place”, Minneapolis, MN, as “Mishiiminens-oodena” meaning “mini-apple town”, or Chicago, IL, as “Zhigaagong” meaning “On the Skunk”.

Because there are many more Anishinaabemowin place names in the area, additional maps are in the making including Chicago’s North Shore, downtown Chicago, and the Cal-Sag Channel area.

If you missed it, also check out the Decolonial Atlas’ map of Chicago in the Myaamia language –

The toponyms that appear on this map are listed below. They include the Anishinaabemowin name, the English name, and the Anishinaabemowin translation.
• Aanikegamaakaan : Fox Lake region (Region of Chain of Lakes)

• Aasaaganashk-aki-zaaga’igan : Saganashkee Slough (Reeded-Land Lake)

• Asiniiwajiwing : Joliet, IL (By the Stone Mountain)

• Bagaanaako-ziibiins : Hickory Creek (Hickory Little River)

• Bagesaanimizhikaaning : Schaumburg, IL (By the Plum-tree Grove)

• Biiwaanagoonyi-ziibiwishenying : Barrington, IL (By the Flinty Brook)

• Bizhiki-bikwaakwaang : Buffalo Grove, IL (Buffalo Groved Prairie)

• Bizhiki-zaaga’igan : Piskakee Lake–Nippersink Lake–Fox Lake (Buffalo Lake)

• Boozitoo-ziibiikaadeng : Cal-Sag Canal (Shipping Canal)

• Dootoogang-aki-ziibi : Kankakee River (Marshland River)

• Gaa-makopini-manoominaganzhikaag-zaaga’igan = Grass Lake (Lake Place of Water Lilies [Bear Potato] Abundant with Wild Rice Straws).

• Gaa-zhigaagwanzhikaag : Chicago, IL (Place abundant with Wild Leeks [Skunk-grass]). Also known as: Zhigaagong (On the Skunk)

• Gichi-mitigwakiing: Aurora, IL (In the Big Woods)

• Gichi-neyaashiing : Evanston, IL (By the Big Point)

• Gichi-onigaming : Cicero, IL (At the Great Portage)

• Gichi-waabashkikiing : Skokie, IL (At the Big Wetland)

• Ginwaamiko-ziibi : Grand Calumet River (Long Sandbar River)

• Ginwaamiko-ziibiing : Gary, IN (By the Long Sandbar River)

• Ginwaamiko-ziibiins : Little Calumet River (Long Sandbar Little River)

• Ginwaamiko-ziibiwi-zaaga’igan : Lake Calumet (Lake of the Long Sandbar River)

• Ininwewi-gichigami : Lake Michigan (Big Lake of the Illinois [Plain Speakers]). Also known as: Mishii’igan (Grand Lake), and Odaawaa-gichigami (Big Lake of the Ottawa)

• Ininwewi-ziibi : Illinois River (River of the Illinois [Plain Speakers])

• Jiiga’oshkodeg-ziibi: Fox River (Scoured by Fire River)

• Maadaajiwanaang : Channahon, IL (At the Confluence)

• Mawii-zaaga’igan : Wolf Lake (Wolf [Weeper] Lake)

• Mishewe-bikwaakwaang : Elk Grove Village, IL (By the Elk Grove)

• Mitigomizhikiing : Oak Forest, IL (At the Oakland)

• Nabagisago-mikana-aazhoganing : Elgin (At the Plank Road Bridge)

• Negawi-ziibiins : Aux Sable River (Sandy River)

• Nibiinsing-ziibiins : Nippersink Creek (By the Little Waters Little River)

• Nisawijiwanaang : Calument City, IL; Hammond, IN (In between the Currents)

• Onigaming : Blue Island, IL (At the Portage)

• Waakaa’igan : Waukegan, IL (Fort)

• Wemitigoozhiiwi-gitigaaning : Wilmette (At the French Farm)

• Zaaga’amoo-ziibiikaadeng : Chicago Sanitary Canal (Defecation Canal)

• Zaagiinying-ziibi : DuPage River (River at the Lesser Outlet)

• Zaagiinying-ziibiing : Naperville, IL (At the River at the Lesser Outlet)

• Zhigaagwanzhikaa-ziibi : North Chicago River (River abundant with Wild Leeks [Skunk-grass])

• Zhiishiigimewanzh-ziibi : Des Plaines River (River with Sugar Maples [pissing stalks])

• Zhiishiigimewanzh-ziibiing : Des Plaines, IL (By the River with Sugar Maples [pissing stalks])

***A note on the compass – The Anishinaabe traditionally orient themselves to the East, which is why East appears at the top of this map. Because the standard orientation is different in European and Anishinaabe cultures, we’ve included the English word “North” and the Anishinaabemowin word “Waabang,” meaning East, on the compass. The compass rose itself is in the form of a medicine wheel, an indigenous symbol used across the continent to denote the four directions.

Map: Jordan Engel. As always, the Decolonial Atlas’ original media can be reused under the Decolonial Media License 0.1.



  1. You should add these toponyms to the respective Wikipedia articles in English, and perhaps also put them in Wikidata als alternative names for the places.


    • I’ve tried adding local indigenous toponyms to Wikipedia articles, but they were all removed, because the policy for listing toponyms in the lead sections of Wikipedia articles is that the names have to be “commonly used” by the people who live there.


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