Posted on December 22, 2023

Native American Translations Are Being Added to More US Road Signs to Promote Language and Awareness

Michael Casey, Associated Press, December 20, 2023

A few years back, Sage Brook Carbone was attending a powwow at the Mashantucket Western Pequot reservation in Connecticut when she noticed signs in the Pequot language.

Carbone, a citizen of the Northern Narragansett Indian Tribe of Rhode Island, thought back to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she has lived for much of her life. She never saw any street signs honoring Native Americans, nor any featuring Indigenous languages.

She submitted to city officials the idea of adding Native American translations to city street signs. Residents approved her plan and will install about 70 signs featuring the language of the Massachusett Tribe, which English settlers encountered upon their arrival.


Carbone has joined a growing push around the country to use Indigenous translations on signs to raise awareness about Native American communities. It also is way to revive some Native American languages, highlight a tribe’s sovereignty as well as open the door for wider debates on land rights, discrimination and Indigenous representation in the political process.

“We have a moment where there is a search for some reconciliation and justice around Indigenous issues,” said Darren Ranco, chair of Native American Programs at the University of Maine and a citizen of the Penobscot Nation. “The signs represent that, but by no means is that the end point around these issues. My concern is that people will think that putting up signs solves the problem, when in fact, it’s the beginning point to addressing deeper histories.”

At least six states have followed suit, including Iowa, New York, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Signs along U.S. Highway 30 in Iowa include the Meskwaki Nation’s own spelling of the tribe, Meskwakiinaki, near its settlement. In upstate New York, bilingual highway signs in the languages of the Seneca, Onondaga and Tuscarora tribes border highways and their reservations.

In Wisconsin, six of the 11 federally recognized tribes in the state have installed dual language signs. Wisconsin is derived from the Menominee word Wēskōhsaeh, meaning “a good place” and the word Meskousing, which means “where it lies red” in Algonquian.


Minnesota has put up signs in English and the Dakota or Ojibwe languages on roads and highways that traverse tribal lands, while the southeast Alaska community of Haines this summer erected stop, yield, ‘Children at Play’ and street name signs in both English and Tlingit.


In New Mexico, the state transportation department has been working with tribes for years to include traditional names and artwork along highway overpasses. Travelers heading north from Santa Fe pass under multiple bridges with references to Pojoaque Pueblo in the community’s native language of Tewa.

There have also been local efforts in places like Bemidji, Minnesota, where Michael Meuers, a non-Native resident, started the Bemidji Ojibwe Language Project. Since 2009, more than 300 signs in English and Ojibwe have been put up across northern Minnesota, mostly on buildings, including schools. The signs can also be found in hospitals and businesses and are used broadly to spell out names of places and animals, identify things such as elevators, hospital departments, bear crossings — “MAKWA XING” — and food within a grocery store, and include translations for welcome, thank you and other phrases.


The University of Maine put up dual language signs around its main campus. The Native American Programs, in partnership with the Penobscot Nation, also launched a website where visitors can hear the words spoken by language master Gabe Paul, a Penobscot pronunciation guide.

“For me, and for many of our tribal citizens and descendants, it is a daily reminder that we are in our homeland and we should be “at home” at the university, even though it has felt for generations like it can be an unwelcome place,” Ranco said.