Should Indian Head, Sask., change its name?

A large monument of an 'Indian Head' greets all who pass or enter the small Saskatchewan town.  (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC - image credit)
A large monument of an 'Indian Head' greets all who pass or enter the small Saskatchewan town. (Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC - image credit)

Many sports teams and musical groups have changed, or looked at changing, potentially offensive names in recent years.

For example, the American band The Chicks, formerly The Dixie Chicks changed to avoid association with racism in the South.

Now a town in Saskatchewan is in the middle of a similar discussion.

Craig Baird, host of the podcast Canadian History Ehx, does a TikTok series on how various Canadian towns got their names. He recently did a video on the origin of the name of Indian Head, Sask., kicking off a slew of comments and debates online.

Now Baird has asked his audience: should the town of Indian Head change its name?

"You have the usual people who see it as the woke movement. You know, [that] we're trying to erase history, which obviously isn't the case when you change the name of a town. It's happened many times in Canada over the past century," Baird said.

"But a lot of people are saying that the Indigenous people should be part of that conversation and they should be the ones consulted over the possible name change, or even if the name has to be changed at all."

Indian Head is 70 kilometres east of Regina.

Matthew Spencer, from Carry the Kettle Nakota First Nation about 30 kilometres southeast of Indian Head, said the name doesn't bother him.

"This is kind of my hometown in terms of where I went to high school, where I played hockey. I have a lot of good memories in this town," said Spencer.

However, Spencer said he's pleased to see people talking about the name and how it may be offensive to some.

"Society is starting to be aware of the changing of team names, sports names and stuff like that to more politically correct terms. It's good that conversation is happening," Spencer said.

"Anyone just passing by on the highway that just sees a big Indian head and sees the name of the town … of course you know they could get offended by it. I'm sure they could make recommendations to the town council if they want, if it offends them that much."

Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC
Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC

But Spencer said he's proud of his community and would not himself complain about the name.

"I believe it's a good teachable moment. It's a very, very good educational tool to see where things are in terms of reconciliation. I'm not offended at all about it, but I can understand why [some] are."

Meanwhile, Melona Biller, a Métis knowledge keeper and life-long resident of Indian Head, said she's always disliked the name.

"I've never liked it because I'm not comfortable with the term 'Indian,'" said Biller, who is on the board of directors for  the Indian Head Museum.

"Growing up, it was very derogatory and it was used quite negatively against the people with First Nations ancestry. And I just always felt that way. And I still do. When people ask where I'm from, I just always say 'Indian Head' real fast ... just run it together," Biller said.

She said she does this because the town's name brings embarrassment to her.

Biller said The Change Makers, a group of young community members in Indian Head, have been vocal about their opposition to the name. She said she supports the work they do, but that other than them, public opposition to the name has been non-existent.

CBC News
CBC News

The name's origin

There are several versions of how Indian Head got its controversial name. But the one Spencer tells is the most popular account. Spencer takes on the roll of historian for his First Nation, learning from the elders and carrying on their oral stories.

He said both Carry the Kettle and the town of Indian Head showed up in the area around the same time in 1882. Spencer's people are originally from the Cypress Hills and were displaced.

"Where we were removed to, there are some hills there. When they got here they found [human] remains from a long time ago, which the elders say was most likely a smallpox epidemic that came through the area probably about 100 years prior to the establishment and the creation of the two communities here in this area," Spencer said.

Indian Head Museum
Indian Head Museum

The Indigenous people used the term Wichapehé, which translates to "Skull Mountain,"  Spencer said.

"Then as the two communities showed up here, the name was there present beforehand, and then I believe it was the townspeople here decided to name their community Indian Head based on what the region was really known for … those hills and those catastrophic events that that occurred there."

Indian Head Museum
Indian Head Museum

Indian Head council

Al Hubbs, town councillor and former mayor of Indian Head, said the matter has not been discussed at council, but the community development committee has discussed whether there is interest in changing the name.

"The people that I've had mentioned it to me are white people that want to have the name changed. But the First Nations people haven't asked me that," Hubbs said.

He said if the matter made it's way to the town council agenda, he would be open to having discussions and debating the matter.

"My own thoughts are that, if you cancel history, you haven't learned from it. Reconciliation is ongoing and needed. But if we keep changing everything, then the future generations will just forget how it came. And that's not a good thing either," Hubbs said.

Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC
Laura Sciarpelletti/CBC

He acknowledged that when it comes to discussion about name changes and addressing colonization, the youth have been leading the conversation.

For now, the town's name remains a remnant of times past.