December 10, 2018
Dear friends and community members,
When Kickapoo Coffee was founded, back in 2005, we named ourselves to honor the place where the business had grown roots: the Kickapoo River Valley. A defining natural feature of our landscape, the Kickapoo River wends its way through the heart of our community. Many local, small businesses share the name in one way or another, and it’s also the name of an 8,600-acre natural area, a township and a public school.
But as our company has grown to become a nationally recognized brand, leaving behind the little train depot that had been our roastery, we’ve come to a point of reckoning with our name. Intended to pay homage to the place we call home and share a sense of regional pride, we were not conscious of the greater implications of its use. For while we were introduced to the Kickapoo as a river, the Kickapoo are a people.
Today, the Kickapoo Nation is made up of four separate bands: The Kickapoo Tribe in Kansas, the Kickapoo Tribe of Oklahoma, the Kickapoo Traditional Tribe of Texas, and the Mexican Kickapoo. But prior to European colonization, the Kickapoo, or Kiikaapoi, were one of the many Great Lakes Tribes that occupied what is today southern Michigan, near Lake Erie. During the Iroquois War, the Kickapoo were driven from their homelands into neighboring Wisconsin, and later settled in present-day Illinois and western Indiana. Subsequent treaties with the United States Government made between 1795 and 1854 forced them from their territory, pushing them further south into Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico.
The moment we began to sell outside of our regional community, our name naturally became distanced from its original context and intention. While it was not a culturally conscious decision to name our company after a river that derived its name from a nation, it felt like an apolitical one at the time given its position in our hometown vernacular. We do not intend that as an excuse, but we do offer it as the reasoning. We had a blind spot when it came to the weight that choice would carry, and its potential repercussions. Now many of our consumers might not recognize Kickapoo Coffee as a company from the Kickapoo River Valley of Wisconsin, but as a coffee company with the name of an American Indian tribe with no real connection to speak of. Appropriation comes in many forms––the blatant, the misinformed, the unintended––but they are problematic no matter the backstory.
We’re in the throes of figuring out how to make this right. We have built our reputation as a company in part upon our commitment to community and social action, and we are dedicated to seeing this process through. We are in the process of reaching out to the Kickapoo Nation to determine our next steps. If you have any other questions about our name, please feel free to reach out to us directly.
With gratitude and humility,
TJ Semanchin & Caleb Nicholes
We welcome your input in this process. Please send your questions and comments directly to TJ, at TJ@kickapoocoffee.com.