Joseph Jack/The Northern View Lax Kxeen, which means “foam on the water,” in Sm’algyax is a rare example of Indigenous words on public display in Prince Rupert.

Councillor takes steps toward reconciliation

Other cities have seen success in incorporating indigenous place names

  • Jun. 29, 2017 11:00 a.m.

Tsimshian names have a place on Prince Rupert street signs says Councillor Joy Thorkleson and she plans to introduce a motion to make it a policy.

Thorkleson cited the placement of Prince Rupert as being within the Tsimshian territory, the high percentage of Aboriginal people living in the city and an abundance of street names which share a common theme as reasons for developing street and community naming policy to reflect Tsimshian culture.

“I just don’t think Prince Rupert needs any more white-middle class male businessman names,” she said after the council meeting.

Thorkleson discussed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) as reasons for her proposal.

“There are four recommendations for municipalities,” she said referencing the TRC 94 Calls to Action, “they call for doing things for survivors of the Residential Schools and educating the staff, but they also refer to the [UNDRIP.]”

Thorkleson said she reviewed the declaration and noted that the communities indigenous people live in, should reflect their culture.

“The best way I see for the community to reflect the population is to have names that reflect the population,” she said. “They [the names] should also be written in Sm’algyax, which is not just Tsimshian but also Nisga’a and Gitxsan.”

“People and children can see their language is on those signs and I believe that it is a move towards reconciliation,” she said.

In 2015, SD52 changed their curriculum to introduce students from kindergarten to Grade 4 to Sm’algyax.

Acting Mayor Blair Mirau suggested Thorkleson develop a notice of motion for council to debate the policy proposal.

Other cities have made efforts, not all successful

In March, 2017, the City of Vancouver passed a unanimous motion to, prioritize giving unnamed city assets (streets, lanes, plazas and buildings,) names to better reflect the city’s diversity and specifically recognizes indigenous contributions to the city and aims to create specific guidelines to place naming that reflects both settler and indigenous history.

In February 2016, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson unveiled a sign which renamed a portion of a road connecting the city to the Enoch Cree First Nation, with a partially Cree name “Maskêkosihk Trail.”

“There’s a lot of symbolism to this,” Iveson said at the time. “But the most important one is a gesture of friendship and reconciliation from the city of Edmonton.”

In 2014, Kamloops city Councillor Donovan Cavers requested city staff to do a report on the feasibility of adding the Secwepemc word “estil” to stop signs, mirroring stop signs at Thompson Rivers University on the T’kemlups First Nation reserve, which borders the city.

“I thought it would be interesting to pursue the idea of doing that in our community as well just to see and express and bring more awareness of First Nations culture to everyone in the community,” Cavers said at the time.

Kamloops city staff reported that stop signs are under the jurisdiction of the province and cities have no jurisdiction to change them.

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