Innu Nation criticizes N.L. government decision to keep Colonial Building's name

·3 min read
The Colonial Building in St. John's housed Newfoundland and Labrador's legislature from 1850 to 1959. It has been a provincial historic site since 1974. (Submitted by Anne Madden - image credit)
The Colonial Building in St. John's housed Newfoundland and Labrador's legislature from 1850 to 1959. It has been a provincial historic site since 1974. (Submitted by Anne Madden - image credit)

The Innu Nation says it's disappointed by the provincial government's decision to leave the Colonial Building's name unchanged.

In a statement Tuesday evening, Innu Nation Grand Chief Etienne Rich said they were surprised by the government's announcement Monday that the building's name would not rename the building.

"Innu have been subjected to harm through colonization, the effects of which are still being addressed today," reads the statement.

"The current name 'Colonial Building' is a stark reminder of that past and stands in testament to a government that sought to marginalize our people."

The Innu Nation said changing the building's name would not erase the colonial history of the province. Rich said the Innu Nation wanted to ensure their history is accurately reflected in the provincial narrative, "unlike [in] the past, when Innu were an afterthought with no ability to impact the decisions of a colonial government."

The Innu Nation's criticism follows two other Indigenous groups saying they were also disappointed with the decision.

A spokesperson for the Nunatsiavut government, an Inuit regional government in Labrador that represents about 7,200 people, called on the government Monday to reverse the decision, which they say "flies in the face" of true reconciliation.

A statement from First Voice, a Indigenous advocacy group which aims to advance truth and reconciliation, also criticized the move, saying decision-making about reconciliation and colonization must prioritize Indigenous voices.

The provincial government says it conducted public consultations on the name of the former legislature and provincial historic site and said a survey received 215 online submissions and eight written responses.

Sarah Smellie/The Canadian Press
Sarah Smellie/The Canadian Press

Just six per cent of survey respondents, or about 13 people, self-identified as Indigenous, and about half of those respondents said the name should be changed, while the other half said it should stay the same.

Respondents could select one of two suggested names for the building — Parliament House or House of Parliament — or suggest their own name for the building, which has been under renovation since 2010 and is slated to reopen in September.

The provincial government has been reviewing public monuments and observances to ensure they "respectfully recognize and commemorate the province's history," according to a press release from the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts and Recreation.

In response to the Nunatsiavut government's call to reverse the decision, Premier Andrew Furey said 70 per cent of respondents in public consultations did not want the name changed.

"I appreciate their position. This was done with consultation with other Indigenous leaders, some of whom didn't want the name changed. So we work together as a consensus," said Furey.

An email sent Wednesday afternoon by Allan Bock, communications director for the provincial Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation and Labrador Affairs Secretariat, said the province had "engaged directly with Indigenous leadership to discuss the name of the Colonial Building. Government, also, wrote Indigenous leadership to seek their views on the name of the Colonial Building."

"As part of the restoration of the Colonial Building, the government is committed to dialogue with Indigenous leaders to tell the story of Indigenous governance in the province," reads the statement.

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