Majority of British Columbians in new survey say no way to B.C. name change

·3 min read
A B.C. flag is shown at right, flying alongside the Canadian flag. (Tupungato/Shutterstock  - image credit)
A B.C. flag is shown at right, flying alongside the Canadian flag. (Tupungato/Shutterstock - image credit)

Most B.C. residents don't want the name of their home province to be changed to reflect the area's Indigenous heritage, according to a survey created by Research Co.

Of the 800 adults surveyed, 60 per cent said they do not want to change the name of the province. About 26 per cent of respondents supported the name change, while 14 per cent said they were undecided.

Younger residents were more likely to believe that we should change the name of the province and acknowledge our Indigenous heritage than those over the age of 55.

Research Co. president Mario Canseco said typically when his company asks people about policy, responses are related to the political party for which the respondents voted in the last election.

However, with this survey, that wasn't the case.

"Younger people who vote for either of the three parties are the ones that are saying that it's time to change the name of the province," he told Radio West host Sarah Penton.

LISTEN | Mario Conseco explains findings from poll on B.C. name change

The survey found slight regional differences in attitudes toward a name change — 18 per cent of B.C. residents who responded were bothered by the absence of an acknowledgement of Indigenous peoples in the province's name. About 26 per cent of residents in northern B.C. raised those concerns.

About 67 per cent said they were completely unbothered by the name. In northern B.C., that number fell to 53 per cent.

"Essentially, you have half of the residents of northern B.C. who look at our name and say, this isn't really what I wanted to be. I think we need to do something about it," Canseco said.

British Columbia was named after the Columbia River, whose name, like several others in the Americas including Colombia and the District of Columbia in the U.S., is derived from the explorer Christopher Columbus. Columbus has been widely regarded as a colonizer who contributed to the genocide of Indigenous people in North America.

Lindsay Gibson, an associate professor in the faculty of education at the University of British Columbia, said he isn't surprised to hear British Columbians are generally opposed to the name change.

Growing up in British Columbia, he remembers asking his mom why the province had such a unique name.

"I don't think people are thinking about the literal name as much as about what British Columbia symbolizes," he said.

"When you actually think about the name British Columbia and you think, why are people so invested in this name, named after an explorer that is responsible for a massive genocide and colonization of Indigenous peoples in the Americas? It's really quite astounding, actually."

Though people are resistant to changing the name now, Gibson believes this is a conversation that will come up time and time again, and he expects attitudes may change.

Canseco said he plans to ask this question of British Columbians annually to find out if people start to warm up to the idea.

"We remember what happened when the Queen Charlotte Islands were renamed as Haida Gwaii. There was no massive discussion, there was no public consultation. Social media was in its infancy, so you didn't have a lot of debates about this and it ultimately took somebody with the political will to say, we're doing this and this is the way we acknowledge our Indigenous heritage," Canseco said.

"This requires a champion, even though the numbers are fairly low right now."

LISTEN | Analysis of recent poll suggesting British Columbians are against a provincial name change

The data from this survey comes from an online study conducted from Aug. 7 to Aug. 9, 2021 among 800 adults in British Columbia. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in British Columbia. The margin of error—which measures sample variability—is +/- 3.5 percentage points, nineteen times out of twenty.

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