From Detah to Dettah — N.W.T. community's name change 'reconciliation in action'

·2 min read

In what the chief of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation calls an "example of reconciliation in action," the government of the Northwest Territories announced an official name change for one of the First Nation's largest communities.

As of Sunday, "Detah" is now officially spelled "Dettah."

"This is the right step in the direction of recognizing the traditional names of our Dene people, and reconciling the errors of the colonial past," said Chief Edward Sangris of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation in a joint news release with the N.W.T. government.

The name change been a long time coming.

The community, which stands across the bay from Yellowknife, has had its official name misspelled since 1971 when the then-named Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development asked that the village be named in accordance with the wishes of the community.

Dettah was misspelled in a document and the community came to be referred to as Detah by the Geographical Names Board of Canada which many organizations, including the CBC, rely on for official names of locations.

'Burnt point'

The change was undertaken as a result of an official request by the Yellowknives Dene First Nation.

"Our community was named Dettah, T'èɂehdaà in our T'satsąot'inę language, which means burnt point, or ash point, due to a fire which occurred in the community in the late 1800s that wiped out most of our 20 or so log homes and much of the large trees that surrounded our community," explained Sangris in the release.

The joint release stated the spelling change was affirmed by Yellowknives Dene First Nation elders and supports the 40-year mandate of the geographical names program, "to gather, preserve and disseminate information on traditional, current and historic names for communities in the N.W.T."

R.J. Simpson, the N.W.T.'s minister of Education, Culture and Employment, said in the joint release that he's committed to working with Indigenous governments to promote the use of traditional names and Indigenous languages in the territory.

He said recognizing traditional names plays a key part "in the language, culture and history of the Indigenous peoples of the North."