The Language of Place: Indigenous Naming and Re-naming
Were you among the many thousands who participated in this year’s Walk for Reconciliation? It was a tremendous event, and saw an estimated 50,000 participants trek from QE Plaza to Strathcona Park to show their support to a new and better relationship between local First Nations and urban Aboriginal communities, and the many settler cultures that also call Vancouver home.
This past week, City Council passed an important motion that we wanted to share with you. It relates to the (re)naming of both the plaza next to Queen Elizabeth Theatre (usually referred to as QE Plaza) and the recently redesigned North Plaza at the Art Gallery, (which, in addition to “the North Plaza” has had a few other names over the years, including Centennial Plaza, and Old Courthouse Square).
Naming and renaming are powerful symbolic acts that can play a role in strengthening the goals of reconciliation between settler and First Nations cultures. Vancouver is not alone here. Whether retitling streets or buildings previously named for proponents of racist policy (Ottawa), supplementing colonial place names with their indigenous parallels (Toront0), or adding indigenous place-based symbols to city flags, municipalities (and other levels of government) across the country are taking a step forward. These are pivotal gestures – part of many such acts that will need to take place over the next few years and decades.
The Vancouver Council motion, approved unanimously, calls on the City to work with Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, and other partners (including Civic Theatres, and the Province of BC) to explore indigenous naming opportunities and other forms of commemoration. With a landscape of First Nations place names that was largely overwritten by successive waves of colonial settlement, the opportunity to re-introduce these indigenous names as part of reconciliation is timely and important. The VPSN commends the City for this important step.
Meanwhile, the Park Board will reconvene on October 11 to consider a similar motion around Siwash Rock – the Chinook and French etymology of which ties it to the English “savage.” You can read more about this motion, and share your thoughts with Park Board Commissioners here.