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The Wayne National Forest Headquarters and Athens Ranger Station on U.S. Route 33, Oct. 5, 2023, in Athens, Ohio.

Potential name change for Wayne National Forest

Wayne National Forest, the only national forest in Ohio, is facing a potential renaming as discussions arise concerning its historical connections with violence toward Native Americans. 

The forest’s current namesake, Gen. Anthony Wayne–an American general from the late 18th century–is connected with the violent displacement of Native American communities.

Wayne, the continental army officer during the American Revolutionary War, led a campaign against Native American tribes in the Northwest Territory in the 1790s, resulting in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. His military campaign ultimately led to the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, resulting in the submission of Native American lands to the U.S. government, according to the National Park Service.

Katherine Jellison, a professor of history, teaches a course called the Survey of American Indian History. She said changing the forests’ name after an Indigenous person, tribe or origin would be a good step toward inclusivity. 

“We see (inclusivity) across the national parks and the National Forest System attempting to get away from the “great white man” interpretation of history … The National Park and National Forest Service Systems (are) also creating and acknowledging new spaces that have an important role in the history of groups of Americans who weren't initially included in the way we taught or learned about American history,” Jellison said. 

The United States Department of Agriculture, or USDA, Forest Service has proposed renaming Wayne National Forest to Buckeye National Forest, drawing inspiration from Ohio’s state tree, the Buckeye.

“State council, recently, within the last several months, has started using land acknowledgments at the beginning of council meetings to formally acknowledge the historic tribes that occupied this land prior to Ohio University being established here,” Athens City Councilmember Micah McCarey, D-At Large, said.

Athens City Council has picked up on the discussion around the renaming and wrote a letter to Lee Stewart, the supervisor of Wayne National Forest, encouraging the name change. Council President Chris Knisley said the council proposed the name to be changed to the Ohio National Forest as Ohio is the Iroquois word for great river.

“We’re trying to be more conscious of diversity, inclusion and equity issues,” Knisley said. “I think just as that general kind of framework, that’s part of the reason that we were interested in it.”

Knisley's sentiment mirrors the nationwide effort to confront historical injustices experienced by Indigenous communities and advance toward a more inclusive society.

McCarey said Wayne National Forest is a jewel of Southeast Ohio and mentioned the surge in outdoor tourism and the economic importance of promoting engagement with Wayne National Forest and the surrounding state parks.

“I hope that engagement won’t just be recreational, but it will be educational, as well,” McCarey said. “It’s not difficult to display placards that give a historical lesson or even to establish trails with different historical messages along the way.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service will take into account input from the public and make a suggestion to the Secretary of Agriculture, who holds the ultimate authority to change the forest's name.

“The club Indigenous Circle believes the name change of the Wayne National Forest to something that is more representative of Ohio is a big win for the Indigenous community,” William Kilbane, the president of OU’s Indigenous Circle club, wrote in an email. 

Kilbane also highlighted the importance of selecting a name that not only better represents Ohio, but also pays homage to Indigenous tribes.

“A renaming of the Wayne National Forest would be a way to acknowledge an important population of people of color, indigenous people, and be a way to acknowledge that they were the original inhabitants in this part of the world and a way not to glorify settler colonialism,” Jellison said.

Knisley said Stewart will hopefully make a decision by November about the potential name change, according to a previous Post report.


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