By Alderman Ashanti Hamilton
Common Council President City of Milwaukee –
Like all cities, Milwaukee is a living organism. Its streets are the veins; the buildings are the bones and the people the heart. The soul of the City is a bit harder to define but might be best explained by looking at our name, “Milwaukee”. As we are all aware, the land that we now currently inhabit once belonged to Native Americans. We had many tribes passing both living and traveling through our land–Algonquin, Potawatomi, Menomonee, and numerous others.
As I have pondered this history recently with November being Native American Heritage Month, it has occurred to me that what our native brothers and sisters thought of this land is still the spirit of our City. The words used to describe our land, “Millioke” and “Mahn-a-wauk”, and their respective meanings still define the soul of our City and it is important to think about how we can continue to live this out.
The first word that I mentioned above, “Millioke” is the most commonly recognized origin of our City’s current name. It is the Algonquin word meaning “the good land”, a name bestowed upon our area due to some of the wildlife that was found near the lake. Tribes would travel for miles to harvest a wonder plant that was used for essential medical purposes. Milwaukee was a provider for Native tribes across the region then and is still a provider for our region and state today.
Milwaukee alone provided $1.377 billion in state revenue for Wisconsin in 2015 and is a net-giver, only receiving $227 million of shared revenue in return. We have 17% of the jobs in the state and are experiencing the most growth and development. Sixty-percent of Wisconsin’s Fortune 500 companies are in Milwaukee and our Universities are generating 70,000 capable employees for the state annually. We have opportunity for those who seek it and remain the state’s economic engine. In addition, we are the political force that can make or break any election.
In the 2018 Midterm election Milwaukee County alone cast 262,101 votes in favor of Governor Elect Tony Evers. That is almost 20% of the votes he received. We were integral into putting someone into office that will take the Medicaid expansion, invest in public education and restore the rights to unions–issues that affect people in areas both urban and rural. We may no longer have a wonder-medicine by the lake for people anymore, but we still live up to our Algonquin name as a “good land” that provides for our state.
Reflecting on the second possible origin story of our name, “Mahn-a-wauk”, we see another truth about Milwaukee. This Potawatomi-rooted word means “Council Ground” because our land was associated with native tribes gathering in peace for discourse not fighting. I wish that I could say we are currently a City with no fighting, but we are definitely still a place where people gather.
Milwaukee brings in people from across the country to experience the greatness that is Wisconsin. Be it our flourishing sports teams or cultural festivals at Summerfest and throughout the state, people gather in this city from all areas of the nation. Soon, we may even live up to our “Mahn-a-wauk” roots in a powerful way by hosting the Democratic National Convention, a chance for people across the nation to experience Milwaukee and utilize our city for public discourse. This city is a place that draws people in.
We also are a gathering place in terms of our diversity. With the Holiday Folk Fair approaching, I am reminded of the wealth of cultures that Milwaukee holds. We are a city that is majority people of color, and a city that speaks dozens of languages and many more dialects. Whether it’s African American, Latino, Hmong, Burmese, Native American or any of the other many cultures that live, work and thrive here—Milwaukee probably has them represented. Although our divisions still seem prevalent, we are a place where our cultures can come together and learn from one another. Those who are willing can experience the world in Milwaukee and this is something that is not only unique but special for the state of Wisconsin.