January 20, 2021

‘Change of perspective:’ Native place names moving Canada from colonial past

Edmonton – For Terry Sandgens, symbolism means everything.

That’s why she decided to get involved in the effort to rename the wards of the city of Edmonton. Sandgens, from Saddle Lake Cree Nation, co-chairs the Indigenous Naming Group.

Sundgens, who is also the director of Indigenous Initiatives at McGonagall University in Edmonton, said: “Our elders talk to us about how important symbolism is.

“From that we can teach.”

Earlier this month, the city passed a bill to give indigenous names to its 12 wards.

The Indigenous Women’s Group chose names from nine groups: Cree, Den, Inuit, Blackfoot, Anishinabe, Michiff (Medis), Mohawk (Michael Band), Sioux, and Papascas.

Edmonton is a gathering place for all nations, says Sandgens, so it is important to consult with the elders in the province.

The capital of Alberta decided to give its wards indigenous names, an example of a movement away from names or figures with colonial connections in Canada.

In the summer, a group visited Sir John A. in Montreal. The statue of McDonald’s was toppled after a peaceful march through the city, one of several protests held across the country by a coalition of black and indigenous activists.

Other statues of Canada’s first prime minister have been the subject of controversy, with some wanting them to be removed because of his complex history with the tribal people.

In Halifax, Including a group The Legislature of Nova Scotia Mickmack recommended the permanent removal of a statue dedicated to the city’s founder, Edward Cornwallis, and renamed it a street and park dedicated to Ravi.

The panel said in a statement in July that the memory of Cornwallis, a British officer charged with genocide against indigenous peoples, was inconsistent with current values.

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Sandgens says there are schools across the country named after people with complex colonial histories. His team initially decided to stay away from naming people for Edmonton’s wards and respect the land instead.

“We don’t think of those above us or those below us,” says Sandgens. “We don’t put people on pedestals. That’s not our way.”

For example The Inuit elders recommended that their people who died of tuberculosis in Edmonton be honored.

In the 1950s and 60s, one-third of Inuit suffered from the disease and most flew south for treatment. Many died unannounced to their families and were buried in cemeteries in the city.

Rob Howell, an indigenous writer and researcher who worked on the renaming team, said the feedback was mostly positive, but some councilors objected.

“Some may have expected these aboriginal names for wards to be easy or familiar in nature, but that’s not the task we have to do.”

That kind of reaction provoked the Edmonton gown. Aaron Buckwheat to tweet: “For those who are worried about pronouncing new ward names … if we can pronounce Saskatchewan, we can do anything.”

In British Columbia, a project to use indigenous names for certain communities on Sunshine Beach occurred in March.

Peter Robson, president of the Bender Harbor and Area Residents Association, said there was no warning or consultation with non-tribals in the area.

In the year 2018 BC. He says the community in his Madrid park should be renamed “Salalus” as part of an agreement between the government and the Seychelles Nation.

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Read Robson’s letter to the provincial government: “No one can deny that the (Seychelles) nation lived here before the non-indigenous people. However, there is a new history of the land that must be recognized.”

A very successful project took place in Alberta in September, removing the racist and misleading nickname for an identity on Mount Charles Stewart in the Rocky Mountains. Adults chose to bring back the original name of the feature: Anu Katha Iba, or Bald Eagle Peak.

BC at the Yellowhead Institute, a think tank led by the first nations. Christina Gray, a founding lawyer and research partner, says she appreciates Edmonton’s naming scheme and hopes it will follow other jurisdictions.

“Especially this year, we’ve seen a wave shift in perspective, especially around complex individuals throughout Canadian history,” Gray says.

“This is changing in many countries that have experienced colonialism and imperialism.”

This report of the Canadian edition was first published on December 25, 2020.

Daniela Germano, The Canadian Press