N.B. community with racial slur to be renamed, signs already removed

·3 min read
A northern New Brunswick community and a nearby mountain will get new names, the government says. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada - image credit)
A northern New Brunswick community and a nearby mountain will get new names, the government says. (Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Warning: This article discusses an offensive slur. CBC has chosen to only use it once for context and censor it in later references.

Tanya Warren has always been embarrassed by the name of the community in which she was born and raised.

She said that feeling grew more intense as she got older and developed closer ties with Indigenous communities.

"That term is just not meant to be used. Period."

Fewer than 100 people live in Squaw Cap, a rural community located west of Campbellton on Route 17 in Restigouche County, near the border with Quebec.

A nearby mountain bears the same name.

Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada
Serge Bouchard/Radio-Canada

Warren remembers when she first learned that her community's name contained a racial slur against Indigenous people. She was 11 years old.

"It was an embarrassment," she said. "I was in shock and questioned it from that point on."

That's why she campaigned for years to have the name changed to something more respectful.

Warren is relieved the government has finally listened and agreed to rename the community and the mountain. To start that process, all road signs with the controversial name were recently removed.

"It's about time," said Manju Varma, New Brunswick's commissioner on systemic racism.

In her report on systemic racism in New Brunswick released in December 2022, Varma recommended the change along with several others.

7 derogatory place names identified

A statement from Tourism, Heritage and Culture Minister Tammy Scott-Wallace said the department previously asked First Nations to identify derogatory place names. At least seven were identified, she said.

The department will now "embark upon a 28-day consultation period" where New Brunswickers can suggest new names for Sq–w Cap and Sq–w Cap Mountain through a website that will be set up by the province.

A department spokesperson said the website isn't online yet, and a public announcement will be made once it is.

Warren said she would have preferred that locals be allowed to rename their community.

Scott-Wallace also said experts "such as historians, ethnohistorians, language experts, or knowledge keepers" may be consulted "to help determine the suitability of the proposed names for consideration."

"The final proposed name(s) will be brought to government for a decision prior to a formal public announcement."

Varma wonders why the government is only changing the two Restigouche County names when five others include the same derogatory word.

Googel Maps
Googel Maps

"I'm kind of confused as to why they don't address all of them at the same time. Why not? They are going to be reaching out to Indigenous communities. Why wouldn't they reach out to the Indigenous communities at the same time for all of the names?" wondered Varma.

She said maintaining place names that contain offensive or insensitive language reflects poorly on the province.

"Somebody comes to New Brunswick and they see these names, these become our brand. These become who we are," said Varma.

A spokesperson for the Department of Tourism, Heritage and Culture said the remaining place names will eventually be changed, but that won't happen until the renaming of the Restigouche County locations is complete and officials have time to evaluate the process.

She said calls from the public and First Nations "guided the provincial government's decision to prioritize" the locations in Restigouche County.

River name controversial

Two weeks ago, Aboriginal Affairs Minister Arlene Dunn said the province won't change the name of the St. John River to the Wolastoq, saying changing racist place names was a higher priority.

First Nations chiefs have been calling for the name change for years, but Dunn said renaming the river is "much more complicated" because it crosses an international border. She said she hasn't approached other governments, such as the state of Maine, to discuss the issue.

The 673-kilometre-long waterway begins in Maine and forms part of the Canada-U.S. border. It flows south through the cities of Fredericton and Saint John, where it empties into the Bay of Fundy.