Rename Starved Rock State Park? It’s a possibility, IDNR says

‘We want to start having these conversations,’ IDNR says

An aerial view of the fall colors over Eagle Cliff on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023 at Starved Rock State Park

Would the state of Illinois rename Starved Rock State Park? The Illinois Department of Natural Resources said it’s a possibility.

Shaw Local News Network was told Tuesday of a tourist-centered meeting in which it was suggested Starved Rock could be renamed on the same grounds that have led sports teams to abandon mascots that are offensive to Native Americans.

No local sources confirmed any details of the report. But when the IDNR was reached for comment, the agency issued a statement acknowledging that park names could be reconsidered, including Starved Rock.

“The state of Illinois has a responsibility to listen to concerns and recommendations from Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities that have current and ancestral ties to Illinois,” the agency said in a statement issued Friday afternoon. “They have repeatedly told us the names of some of our state parks and sites are harmful to their ancestors’ remembrance and perpetuate false narratives to the public. Starved Rock is one example of many.

“At the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, we believe place names have power. In the future, the state, in consultation with Tribal leaders and Illinois residents, will explore more appropriate names for some of our parks and sites.

“This serves multiple purposes. Place names will better reflect sites’ natural attributes and histories rather than the painful and often inaccurate colonial narratives they currently represent. These efforts will take time to happen, but we want to start having these conversations.”

Several businesses and government entities in and around Starved Rock declined to comment or did not respond before press time Friday. Local lawmakers said the agency’s intention previously had not been disclosed to them.

State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said she had not been apprised of the possibility of a name change. More concerning, she said, is that Starved Rock has a laundry list of urgent infrastructure needs, “and this is what they decide to work on?”

“While I understand the desire to develop dialogue regarding subjects such as this, I have some concerns about the potential unintended consequences that this proposal could present,” said Rezin, Illinois Senate deputy minority leader. “The name ‘Starved Rock’ has national recognition and has become an integral part of the local community’s identity. A hasty name change could result in a potentially devastating impact on the local economy and the park’s surrounding communities.”

State Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, said he wanted to learn more but called Friday’s report “upsetting.”

“I understand this could merely be a conversation at this point, but our area has branded itself as Starved Rock Country, and changing the name without public input and consideration from the local residents, businesses and other interests would be unjust,” Yednock said. “The name Starved Rock has a shared history and sense of pride for Illinois Valley residents for well over 100 years. I expect there will be more input and information going forward if this is a real consideration.”

According to the park’s website, Starved Rock “derives its name from a Native American legend.”

“In the 1760s, Chief Pontiac of the Ottawa tribe was attending a tribal council meeting,” according to the website. “At this council of the Illinois and the Pottawatomie, an Illinois-Peoria brave stabbed Chief Pontiac.

“Vengeance arose in Pontiac’s followers. A great battle started. The Illinois, fearing death, took refuge on the great rock. After many days, the remaining Illinois died of starvation, giving this historic park its name – Starved Rock.”

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