Home>>City>>City Council Shuts Down “End of the Trail” Rebranding Over Racism Accusations and Lawsuit Concerns

City Council Shuts Down “End of the Trail” Rebranding Over Racism Accusations and Lawsuit Concerns

WAUPUN — The Waupun City Council decided to move forward with replacing the city wayfinding signs without alteration at the Meeting of the Common Council Tuesday evening. Mayor Rohn Bishop has been pushing to replace the current “City of Waupun” crop logo with a silhouette of the End of the Trail on the wayfinding signs. This decision came after the Board of Public Works placed the wayfinding signs plans on hold at the Board meeting last month, kicking the final decision to the City Council. Several members of the public came forward to give their thoughts on the matter including Waupun Historical Society president Zac Dickhut and secretary Tracie Nichols-Biever.

Zac Dickhut gave a few remarks about the use of the End of the Trail statue in city branding. Dickhut said that he heard from “twenty or so” local business owners who had concerns about the statue being used in city marketing. “It comes down to essentially the End of the Trail doesn’t do anything for business in the community, as a sculpture sitting by itself without any kind of context provided to it. They see it as tired, it’s old, and we need to be looking for something new,” he argued.

Tracie Nichols spoke next and began by asking if Mayor Bishop knew the history of the name of the naming of Waupun, to which Mayor Bishop responded that it was a misspelling of the Ojibwe word for “dawn of a new day.” She thanked Mayor Bishop for knowing the history behind the city name but argued that its original meaning has been lost by members of the community today.

“When the town was decided to be named Waubun there was a reason and that was because it meant ‘Dawn of Day’ to the Ojibwe,” Nichols said. “It meant something to the city’s founders and the people of the First Nations it represented. Whatever the reason for choosing the name Waubun, it died, along with remembering where the word came from. It wasn’t even important enough to have the typo corrected. It’s been this way for 170ish years and we’re sitting on a word that doesn’t mean what we tell people it means. And that is the very definition of systemic racism.”

Nichols continued, “It’s bigger than the sculpture, it’s bigger than it’s a pretty place to take pictures, it’s bigger than being placed on the wayfare signs and the mascot. It’s something that needs to have a bigger conversation. You bring people in, you have people take a look at that sculpture and find out what their perspective is, what their perspective was and what they would like to see in the future coming from this. And I would urge you not to push through with the wayfare signage until you have the appropriate conversations with the appropriate people.” Nichols admitted she was nervous about giving her speech but Mayor Bishop said she did well and thanked her for coming to speak.

Also in attendance was member of the Ho-Chunk tribe, Valerie Kempen. She also came to speak about the use of the End of the Trail statue and how it might affect Native Americans in the community as well as the community itself. “Using this type of symbolism can rip a town apart. It has already created ripples in Waupun. Also it is a huge issue for the town; I have worked in mascot groups with other Native Americans to remove [Native American] mascots in schools. School districts have removed 39 Native American mascots with 26 district schools yet to remove.”

Waupun has already been involved with similar movements in the past. In the 1990s, the Waupun Area School District moved away from the use of Native American symbolism and replaced the “Waupun Warrior” with a generic knight mascot instead.

“Please consider a ‘forward looking’ symbol for your town,” Kempen continued. “Use a symbol that’s creating unity, forward thinking. Let’s all move forward and not live in the past.”

Member of the Public Jason Whitford also attended and gave a short speech in favor of Mayor Bishop’s proposal, saying that it “creates good conversations” for the community. Whitford was the last member of the public to speak before the Council began the planned agenda.

Council opposition to the rebranding was led by Alderman Pete Kaczmarski of the 2nd Aldermanic District. Alderman Kaczmarski first quoted the Wikipedia summary of the End of the Trail article, saying “it was made to be a tribute to the Native American people. I then asked myself, why are we not offering to have an open dialogue with them now? What I am proposing is to have a public forum open to the City Council and the public at the Waupun High School. We would invite any Native American member or tribe to tell us what this means to them and how it has affected their past, present, and future.”

Kaczmarski continued. “Many sports teams and even local schools have adopted to change their logo. The elected representatives here should not have preconceived opinions on an issue until all the facts are in. In my opinion this is extension of homework we all need to do before deciding on this issue And lastly I’d like to comment that in some of the news reports I’ve heard the past few years they have brought lawsuits to organizations that have the Native American logos—we don’t have $500 to fight any lawsuit, let alone $5,000 or $100,000. So if this does pass I’m gonna be the first to ask this to be reconsidered.”

Alderman Westphal concurred with Alderman Kaczmarski’s position stating, “I was not part of any of the Boards that came up with the design and voted on them but that did happen. The designs were come up with and they were voted on and I personally see no reason to go ahead and back and change the recommendations that came to us in the first place.” The Council was asked if they received any correspondence regarding the issue from constituents; only three said yes. Dan Siebers, newly appointed to the 5th Aldermanic District, said he had received three emails, but noted that they were from the attending members of the public.

No motions were made regarding the wayfinding signs and they will be put up as planned without alteration.

“It was a campaign promise and I worked to keep it. But now the City Council opposes it and it’s time to move on,” Mayor Bishop, expressing this disappointment with the outcome after the meeting. “Maybe if thirty people showed up and said ‘hey, we support Rohn’s initiative’ it might have been different.”

Public Works Director Jeff Daane noted that should the Council change their mind in the future, it would not be difficult to place decals on the signs after installation. For now, the wayfinding signs will be put up as originally planned with the generic crop logo, replacing the old blue wayfinding signs around town.