Artists waiting for Indigenous place names question quick approval of Barge Chilling Beach sign

·3 min read
The Barge Chilling Beach sign pictured on Jan. 3 after the Indigenous name for Sunset Beach, Í7iy̓el̓shn, was graffitied over it. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
The Barge Chilling Beach sign pictured on Jan. 3 after the Indigenous name for Sunset Beach, Í7iy̓el̓shn, was graffitied over it. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

Update — Jan. 5, 2022: As of Jan. 5, the yellow paint on the Barge Chilling Sign has been removed.

Nearly a month after the Barge Chilling Beach sign popped up in Vancouver, a number of locals are questioning why a sign for a stranded barge was approved so quickly when official parks across the city still don't have signs bearing their original Indigenous names.

Artist Ronnie Dean Harris started the discussion on Sunday when he pointed out Sunset Beach already has a name: Í7iy̓el̓shn, which he said is pronounced "ee-ay-ul-shun" and means "good underfoot" in hən̓q̓əmin̓əm.

"If it's that easy to make a Barge Chilling sign then it's that easy to put up a place name sign and a QR code and everybody can learn," said Harris, a Stō:lo/St'át'imc/Nlaka'pamux artist based in New Westminster, B.C.

"It's funny, it's a great joke, I get it. But also, what about this?"

The Vancouver Park Board jokingly installed the sign last month to commemorate the runaway barge that ran aground on Sunset Beach during a heavy storm on Nov. 15 and has remained stuck there since.

The board's manager said it was a "holiday gift" meant to make light of an absurd situation that had become somewhat of a tourist attraction.

The sign was graffitied early this week, with "Í7iy̓el̓shn" written on the sign in yellow paint.

Sign is temporary and unofficial: park board

The board said the sign is temporary and will come down once the barge is gone. It is not an official sign, nor is the area a new park separate from Sunset Beach.

Still, dozens of people responded to Harris's post wondering how the sign came about so fast.

"Seeing the the response didn't surprise me because we're at a place where we are exhausted with this," said T'uy't'tanat-Cease Wyss, who is of Skwxwú7mesh and Stó:lō descent.

"I've read articles ... over the years where settlers become immediately defensive when we want to put in place names that are traditional to us that have been here for thousands of years."

Ben Nelms/CBC
Ben Nelms/CBC

Harris said names carry weight, even if they're temporary.

"When we think about Indigenous rights and title, it's a huge part of the portfolio to have your place names, have the stories there, frequency of use," said Harris, who's been researching Indigenous place names around Metro Vancouver as a passion project since 2010.

"In the air that we're in right now, for me, [the sign] was an interesting thing to see."

LISTEN | Hariss and Wysse discuss the significance of place names:

Official renaming process lengthy

In May 2020, the park board directed staff to start developing an official decolonization strategy.

Some staff suggested creating a cultural framework as part of the strategy to guide officials on "how to deal with place names."

No one from the park board was available for an interview.

Officially renaming parks and landmarks in the city typically takes months, if not years.

The process usually starts with a councillor filing a motion, launching weeks of collaboration and debate to decide whether a new name should be chosen and what it should be.

The board, for example, started talking about renaming Stanley Park's Siwash Rock in July 2015 but didn't vote to start the official renaming process until October 2017. The name has yet to be changed.

hən̓q̓əmin̓əm is traditionally spoken by the Down River people of the Fraser Valley which includes the Musqueam, Tsleil-Waututh, Kwikwetlem, Tsawwassen, Katzie, and Kwantlen Nations.

It's one of many dialects under the Coast Salish umbrella, which encompasses 14 languages across British Columbia, Washington and Oregon.

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