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Vancouver city council to consider using more indigenous place names

If the motion passes, city staff will come up with an indigenous design guide for place names

A cyclist rides past the aboriginal carving pavilion in the parking lot behind the ice rink at Britannia secondary school.

Jennifer Gauthier/Metro

A cyclist rides past the aboriginal carving pavilion in the parking lot behind the ice rink at Britannia secondary school.

Vancouver landmarks could soon have names that better reflect the region’s history – that’s the motivation behind a motion that could see the city use more First Nations names for everything from buildings to parks.

The motion of notice, proposed by city councillor Andrea Reimer, asks city staff to repatriate some indigenous place names and create a design guide for future naming endeavours. Many of the city’s streets and landmarks still reflect a colonial past.

“I think it speaks to the history of erasure that happened within Vancouver, the ways things are now,” said Squamish member, Khelsilem.

“Any movement to restore the history or knowledge and culture to the land is a positive step.”

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Candidates for indigenous naming aren’t necessarily buildings or streets – one possibility is renaming Stanley Park’s Siwash Rock, said Khelsilem, the programming director at the non-profit, Kwi awt Stelmexw (KAS).

Reimer says any naming or re-naming process would be done through consultation with both non-aboriginal residents as well as the region’s three First Nations – the Musquem, the Squamish, and the Tsleil-Waututh.

Other governments or organizations could make use of the design guide as well, she said.

Vancouver’s newest public library, nə́c̓aʔmat ct Strathcona, already has an indigenous name and the Vancouver School Board has said Crosstown Elementary School will have an indigenous name after it opens Fall 2017.

The Lower Mainland is home to two indigenous languages – the Musqueam speak Halkomelem, the Squamish speak the language bearing its name, and the Tsleil-Waututh speak both.

The motion, if passed, will be part of the city’s 150+ commitment to make 2017 a year of reconciliation. Reimer says she was inspired to introduce the idea after learning some Squamish herself.

“The most important people to see themselves reflected here are the peoples whose place this is,” she said, referring to the reality that Vancouver is located on Coast Salish land.

It’s a small first step toward healing, said Reimer, who admitted Canada is still in the early stages of reconciliation.

“The first step of any healing process is telling the truth. And I think the most basic truth is having the land reflect its history,” she said.

“The alternative is we watch the trauma play out in the present.”

If the motion passes, city staff will be asked to return to council with a report by December 2017.

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