Indigenous leaders decry missed opportunity in N.B.'s naming of new communities

·4 min read
Chief Allan Polchies Jr. of Sitansisk Wolastoqiyik, also known as St. Mary's First Nation, says he's not surprised the government didn't adopt Indigenous place names. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)
Chief Allan Polchies Jr. of Sitansisk Wolastoqiyik, also known as St. Mary's First Nation, says he's not surprised the government didn't adopt Indigenous place names. (Shane Fowler/CBC - image credit)

Indigenous groups are reacting with familiar disappointment to the absence of any Indigenous names for New Brunswick's new municipal entities.

"It comes as no surprise to me or any of the other chiefs that this provincial government would miss an opportunity to adopt Indigenous place names," said Chief Allan Polchies Jr. of Sitansisk Wolastoqiyik, formerly known as St. Mary's First Nation in Fredericton.

The names of 77 redrawn municipal entities were unveiled Wednesday. They include French and English names, largely about geographical features.

"The Higgs government has continued time and time again, to show its hand and prove that it is dead set on keeping New Brunswick decades behind anywhere else in the country, particularly when it comes to Indigenous peoples and reconciliation," said Polchies.

Aniekan Etuhube/CBC
Aniekan Etuhube/CBC

Some members of naming committees told CBC News that they considered Indigenous names but were advised against it.

"They had to be eliminated because the approval process for accepting these names would have been very lengthy — like, more than a year," Cambridge-Narrows Mayor Rita Winslade said when describing how the committee for Entity 66 came up with the name Arcadia.

Some other things that were to be avoided, she said, were a name that contained more than one language or belonged to an existing community. Committee members were encouraged to choose descriptive names of the surroundings that would remain appropriate for many generations to come.

The Town of Grand Bay-Westfield was also interested in a possible Indigenous name for Entity 51.

Contributed/Charlene LaBillois
Contributed/Charlene LaBillois

It engaged in consultation with some Wolastoqi representatives but was told by the province that this "did not meet the standard of full and proper consultation" before deciding to stick with Grand Bay-Westfield for its new larger area.

"This is very disappointing," Polchies said. "We are the People of the Dawn. Wabanaki people's connection to this land is inalienable.

"Our roots dig as deep as the trees themselves. Our cultures and languages should be at the forefront. Instead, consultation is seen to be inconvenient."

The province set a tight timeline for the reforms it is undertaking to reduce the number of local governments from 340 to 89. The new entities are expected to get everything ready for elections this fall.

Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Inc
Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Inc

CBC News has asked the Department of Environment and Local Government and the premier's office what would have been required in order to select an Indigenous name, in terms of the consultation and approval process, and whether entities had the option of continuing as just a number until such a process could be complete.

A response had not been received at publication time.

"We would hate to think that an entity was discouraged from even considering an Indigenous name because of concerns around consultation or the length of time it would take to get permission," said Dean Vicaire, executive director of Mi'gmawe'l Tplu'taqnn Inc.

"While entities shouldn't unilaterally select an Indigenous place name without Indigenous involvement and consent," said Vicaire, "the province is making it sound like it would be an onerous process.

"This seems to have dissuaded individuals and communities from working with our Indigenous communities."

The government's timeline for reforms is "ambitious," he said, and fingers shouldn't be pointed at the Mi'gmaq or Wolastoqiyik for standing in the way of an Indigenous name choice.

"That approach is not reconciliation," said Vicaire.

Renaming the St. John River Wolastoq

Wolastoqi leaders have had "no engagement" from the provincial government on another geographical naming matter, said Polchies.

They've been "strongly pushing for," the St. John River to be officially renamed Wolastoq.

"Not only because it's the right thing to do," he said, "but because Indigenous languages are beautiful and hold a deeper meaning and history to this land."

When European explorers gave the river its Christian name in the early 1600s, it was part of the deliberate effort to remove Indigenous people from the land, said Polchies.

Some "minor discussions" have taken place, he said, toward changing derogatory names, such as S--w Cap Mountain.

"Again, we appear to be an inconvenient hurdle," he said.

How new names will be used

The Grand Bay-Westfield naming committee, proposed that their future municipal council choose a "ceremonial Indigenous name" that wouldn't be legal but could be used on welcome signs and in land acknowledgements.

The province "enthusiastically" supported that idea, said committee chair Jon Taylor.

Even those directly involved in choosing the new names weren't quite sure exactly how they were going to be used.

"That's a good question," said Winslade.

She supposed Arcadia would likely be used on road signs with the more specific community name in brackets.

The new names will be used for tourism marketing, confirmed Environment and Local Government Department spokesperson, Anne Mooers, as well as for local government administrative matters.

"Community names aren't changing," she emphasized.

"Nackawic is Nackawic. Jemseg is Jemseg."

People can still call the places they live by the same names and will have their mail sent to the same addresses, said a release from the department.

"I will always be from Lewisville," said Minister Daniel Allain, "and people from Irishtown will always be from Irishtown."

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