Indigenous place names have marked and identified important locations throughout British Columbia for countless generations.
Following contact and settlement of European people new names were added and signs were erected. Bill 19 expands parkland and begins to reattach Indigenous place names to those important places.
In second reading debate I take the opportunity to discuss the importance of Indigenous names to critical locations, and what we can learn from them.
In addition, I begin to unpack the different worldview of Indigenous cultures that clashes with our current practice of protecting some places from exploitation and not others.
It’s an honour to stand and respond to Bill 19, Protected Areas of British Columbia Amendment Act, and to have the opportunity to actually share some things that have been going through my mind with respect to names of places and place-names.
I’ve stood in this House on a regular basis, and I’ve spoken the Saanich language, SENĆOŦEN. As I’ve been learning the language in a very, very limited fashion, I’ve been applying many of the place-names that have been traditionally attached to locations throughout the Saanich territory, which is, in essence, the territory that I represent with this seat, with this table, Saanich North and the Islands. It’s, essentially, Saanich territory.
What’s in a name?
Lots of the southern Gulf Islands and many places around the Saanich Peninsula all had important names attached to them in the SENĆOŦEN language.
It’s interesting, listening to the previous speakers talk and in going through the bill, to understand how we name things today. In many instances — in fact, in most instances — the names that we attach to places reference human beings. It’s Blanshard Street. Well, Blanshard was a person. Or it’s Tweedsmuir Park. That’s a person. It’s Roderick Haig-Brown Park. These are people in our history.
If you look at how the W̱SÁNEĆ people named the places within the territory, it was very much named after resource activities, economic development at that time, commercial opportunities. They were the names of the resources that could be harvested from those places and, in some cases, they were the names of the resources and the time of year that you could be there. The names were warnings: “This is a place which the tide changes quickly” or “This is a place where there are strong rapids.” These are warnings to people to navigate through areas with care.
So there is a clash not only in modern culture today as we look and as Indigenous people look out to their territories and see a whole pile of foreign names associated with locations throughout their territories that once had very important names to them. It’s nice to see the government taking action to move back to finding or renaming, reattaching old names to places, the names that Indigenous people had already placed there for perhaps countless generations in the past.
I’ve often said when I was on municipal council…. In fact, I’ve talked to municipal councillors in my current role as the MLA and suggested to them that is an important step — just as I stood in this place and talked about the Indigenous language revitalization investment that the government has made — an important part of reconciliation. Also, that reattaching Indigenous names, the names of Indigenous places, the Indigenous names to those places, is also a critical and important step in reconciliation. It’s reattaching us to the history that has existed here for much longer than British Columbia has existed.
We often talk in government about the challenges that overlapping territories create and, of course, in the colonial context or in the context of this country as we see it now, conflict has marked our history. And of course, the conflict around overlapping territories is a big challenge with respect to the Indian Act as we go forward in time. It’s often been something that’s been used to confuse and, as well, to delay and deflect.
I think that if you take a look at Indigenous cultures and the place names, you’ll see that there are very clear places where one territory starts to melt into another territory. Those are the places that carry two names — a name from one people and a name from another people — and in almost all instances, you’ll start to see territories blend into each other, and one territory will eventually end.
There was lots of politics in those areas. Let’s just be real. There was lots of conflict in those areas. And there were also ways in which those people were able to sort that out.
As we go through our ridings and we take a look at our ridings and we embrace the future of reconciliation in our province and in our country, reattaching place names is going to have a tremendous impact in acknowledging where we’ve come from. It will help us pave a way as to where we intend to go as well.
Treating all of nature like we treat parks
It’s important, also, to acknowledge in this debate — as we are expanding park territory and acknowledging some parks with Indigenous names — the inherent conflict that there has been in conversations that I’ve had around the idea of a park. Many Indigenous cultures…. I don’t speak for any Indigenous culture outside of the one that I know in my limited knowledge of my own culture. It is that a park doesn’t exist in the context or in the world view. There aren’t places that are set aside for protection so that the rest of existence can be decimated and destroyed. There is an entirely different world view.
I introduced that, and I’ve been introducing it as I’ve had these discussions. This is an important time…. It’s not to diminish the fact that we have a different way of doing things in modern times in protecting certain areas so that, then, other areas can be exploited in their entirety. But it is important to point out that as we have a discussion around creating a resilient and sustainable economy and relationship with our natural environment that we do so by adopting some of the core principles and values of the Indigenous cultures in this province, that we start to change the relationship that we have with, as a member from Nanaimo was talking about, the wilderness.
The wilderness is not empty…
If I was to sit and have a conversation with my Uncle, STOLȻEȽ — and I haven’t done this —I can imagine that from his perspective, none of the wilderness is actually either wild or empty. I think we look at wilderness as being an empty place, because we view this and every place on this planet in the context of where humans are and where humans are not.
From what I’m learning in the context of Indigenous cultures…. As we’re starting to put Indigenous place names on top of protected areas, this is an important opportunity to point this out. We can actually take it a step further than the distance that we’re willing to go at this stage, and we can start to push the limits and maybe start to adopt some of the principles and values and the world views of the Indigenous cultures of our province. They will help us create not only sustainable relationships with our environment but also sustainable relationships with our economies, our resource extraction areas.
Many of the place names, as I mentioned earlier, in our territory locate very, very important resource extraction areas that fueled trade, that made certain families powerful — very powerful, in fact, dominating very large territories. So I think that it’s important to note that the current resource extraction of our province — exploitation of resources, resource development, adding value and all of that — has been going on in our province for a very long time. If we paused and took a few minutes to listen to the Indigenous place names of our province, we’d start to understand it with a different visual, a different layer, in different contexts.
Everything has its place…
As we acknowledge these protected areas with Indigenous names, it’s important to emphasize the fact that this is not the kind of perspective that I know that we have in Saanich. The entire territory is personified. Each of the living beings — even the islands, which we wouldn’t in modern times consider to be living — we have put names around them and called them our relatives.
It’s been an honour to have the opportunity to share that perspective in here today. I think that it would do our province well and it certainly would not hold us back to start to engage the world around us in a different way.
What about Pender?
If I may, I’d just like to put in a plug. As the government from my riding, Saanich North and the Islands, has been expanding parks, there’s a very lovely park on Pender Island which they’ve had to put an emergency road through because of past development practices that didn’t allow an egress route. So I would just like to put it to the government today that if they want to continue to expand parkland — and I would be very, very supportive of them doing that — I would say that Lively Peak Park on Pender Island would be a great example of a park which they could expand.
I’m certain that the people of Pender Island would also love to have a discussion about putting an Indigenous name on that park, as well. Maybe in round two of this exciting activity of expanding parks and acknowledging Indigenous territories, Lively Peak on Pender Island…. I know that some members of government even spend some time in the summer there, so they might even know exactly where that is.
I’ll take my seat today at this time. I’d just like to thank the government for the opportunity to have a conversation about place names and the importance of place names and reattaching Indigenous names to our important and protected areas. At this time, thank you very much for the opportunity to speak to this bill.