The P.E.I. legislature has voted unanimously to urge the federal government to change the name of the Confederation Bridge to Epekwitk Crossing.
P.E.I. Premier Dennis King put forward the motion on Friday, with support from the leaders of the Official Opposition Green Party and the Liberal Party.
Epekwitk, pronounced ehb-uh-gwihd, is the original name given by the Mi'kmaq for the land now known as Prince Edward Island.
In his remarks about the motion, formally known as Motion 116, King thanked P.E.I. senators Brian Francis and Percy Downe for their work on the motion, as well as the opposition parties for their support.
"It's a small step, but a very significant step in terms of true and meaningful reconciliation," Francis said.
"We have to all walk that journey together, and to see all parties support is a sign that once again our small province of Prince Edward Island is leading by example."
In a written statement, Francis said that while P.E.I. is widely recognized as the birthplace of Confederation, not many people acknowledge that the national project came "at a great cost to Indigenous people," resulting in a process of exploitation and displacement which continues to impact their lives to this day.
"The renaming of the bridge can play an important role in acknowledging the true history of our province," Downe said in the release. "[It shows] that we are working together to advance lasting reconciliation between the Mi'kmaq and all Islanders and Canadians."
'Our language is who we are'
The motion says it is of "utmost importance" to recognize Indigenous languages. It coincides with the first year of the International Decade of Indigenous Language, which draws attention to their loss due to colonialism and other factors.
When the bridge was built in the 1990s, a committee recommended it be named Abegweit Crossing based on public submissions. Abegweit is the anglicized version of Epekwitk, which means "cradled on the waves."
"Our language is who we are," Francis said. "To have that spelled properly in Mi'kmaw goes a long way in telling our story of who we are, where we came from. From 10,000 years or time immemorial to this day, today. And it's significant for us."
But that name wasn't selected by the federal government at the time. The other choices were Confederation Bridge and Northumberland Strait Bridge.
Lennox Island Chief Darlene Bernard said the name change helps promote the Mi'kmaw language and culture, and allows people in her community see themselves reflected in society.
"When we say our history is in our language, it truly is," she said.
"Our history has been taken from us. It's been hidden from us all these years. The language is so important. And when we see our language splattered all over Epektwitk, you know, this will help us see ourselves in the province.
"We have so much to offer to this province. We have a culture that's rich and vibrant, and we want to share it," Bernard said. "It's your language as well, right? It's our language. And I think that when we all work together to promote it, to use it, to practice it, we can we can make it last."
In talks about next steps
King says he has been in discussions with federal Minister of Intergovernmental Affairs Dominic LeBlanc about next steps.
P.E.I. MP and Veterans Affairs Minister Lawrence MacAulay said in an emailed statement that the motion "will be given full and serious consideration" by the federal government based on consultation with local stakeholders, the Indigenous community and their representatives.
"We recognize the importance of local Indigenous language and culture and as a government are committed to reconciliation. We look forward to further discussions on this important and worthwhile proposal," MacAulay said.
King said the name Abegweit is "entrenched in all of our lives without maybe even us knowing it."
He made reference to the old Abegweit ferry, the old Charlottetown Abegweit Club and the Charlottetown Abbies hockey team as examples.
"To think about how we can take that connection all of those years past into the future and to put that name back on to the connection we have to the mainland where it's so richly deserved to be, I think it's ... a very important step for using the process that we've embarked on toward reconciliation, toward forgiveness and better understanding."