On May 22nd, members of the Tsawout (SȾÁUTW) nation, with support from the Songhees and the other local WSÁNEĆ nations, including Tsartlip (WJOȽEȽP), Pauquachin (BOḰEĆEN), Tseycum (WSIKEM), Malahat (MÁLEXEȽ) and allied supporters from the Greater Victoria community, will lead an action to reclaim the original name of PKOLS, now known as Mount Douglas, in what is now known as Victoria, in what is now known as British Columbia.
I live 3400 km from PKOLS, and I am not apart of the SȾÁUTW, Songhees or the WSÁNEĆ nations. As an Anishinaabekwe however, I know intimately the importance of standing in ones territory, freely practicing our ceremonies at our sacred places, harvesting our foods, and telling our children their stories of creation in the exact spot creation happened and is happening. I know that living as Anishinaabe is one of the most important things we can do, on reserve, off reserve, in the middle of the bush or in the middle of the city. So I know that the reclamation of PKOLS is an extraordinarily important act for the SȾÁUTW, Songhees and the WSÁNEĆ because it physically connects them to a powerful place, alive with story, and breathing with history. I hope for non-Natives living in Victoria that it instills in them a sense of responsibility to the land and to the peoples whose homelands they live in – a responsibility to learn what that means on the terms of the SȾÁUTW, Songhees and the WSÁNEĆ nations. I hope it reminds every non-Indigenous visitor to PKOLS that we are still here – as living, breathing, intelligent, creative peoples committed to living in and protecting our homelands.
This process of re-naming is a prominent part of colonial dispossession. Naming within western thought is a signifier of occupation and ownership, and mapping is a highly political act, deliberately designed in a colonial context to erase Indigenous presence, history, and connection to the land. English and French place names reflect a narrow, constructed view of history that erase any question of Canada’s claim to territory. Looking at a map of Canada, it is as if Indigenous Peoples never existed, except to infuse the odd anglicized word from a Native language in a series of otherwise disconnected place names taken from colonial homelands, and white hero-ized men who are celebrated only for dispossessing Indigenous Peoples of our lands.
Peaceful co-existence requires much more.
Indigenous Peoples name places for much different reasons. In my own homeland, the Mississauga Nishnaabeg part of the larger Anishinaabeg nation, places are named for the connection our people have to that particular place. Our place names are holders of story, history, teachings, events – our collective and individual intimate connections and interaction with place. The stories and cultural meanings embedded in our place names connect our people to the land spiritually. They link our children to both their future and our history, and to a time when our environment was intact. Sometimes they mark events – political gatherings or ceremonial and sacred sites. Sometimes they are poetic descriptions of our affection for the natural features of our land. Although these names rarely appear on the topographical or roadmaps of Ontario, they continue to exist in the oral tradition.
A few days ago, I was visiting Doug Williams, an Elder at Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario. Together we’ve begun to record Mississauga Nishnaabeg place names on topographical maps. I began asking him about Buckhorn Lake on the west side of the reserve. Using his finger, he drew a circle around the water surrounding Wagosh Minis, or Fox Island, and told me that this part of the lake is called “Omiimiinens Zaaghigan”. I asked why. He explained that in the past, large flocks of passenger pigeons flew over this part of the lake. The flocks were so large, that the sky was dark for three hours. Another place was named because there were lots of cranberries there. Another, because if you paddle towards it from the south, it looks like a curve. Then I read him a few names I’d found in old history books and the archives. At one point he said “Leanne, imagine yourself in a canoe, paddling in the lake, looking for an entrance to the river. You see what might be one, but it looks too marshy – it looks like it’s going to be too difficult to get in, but you go anyway. When you get there, it’s actually easy to get in. I think that’s what that place name is telling us”. That’s key to understand Mississauga Nishnaabeg place names – you almost always have to look at it from the perspective of paddling a canoe, and that makes sense since our ancestors spent so much time on the water travelling through our homeland.
In 1993, some of the Elders at Curve Lake First Nation, led by Gladys Taylor, launched a complaint to the Ontario Geographics Name Board to have the name of the Squaw River changed back to its original name Miskwaa Ziibi, (meaning Red River), for reasons that should be obvious to everyone. The Ontario Geographics Name Board agreed. Miskwaa Ziibi is now one of the only original place names on topographical maps of Ontario.
Reinstating Indigenous presence is not just happening in rural areas. This winter, the Ogimaa Mikana Project emerged as an effort to restore Anishinaabemowin place names to the streets, avenues, roads, paths, and trails of Chi Engikiiwang/Tkaranto/Toronto. A small section of Queen Street was renamed Ogimaa Mikana (Leader’s Trail) in tribute to all the strong women leaders of the Idle No More movement. Another street sign was installed along Spadina Avenue, restoring the name Ishpadinaa, meaning a hill in Anishinaabemowin.
The dispossession and removal of Indigenous Peoples from our homelands so that these homelands can be exploited for large-scale natural resource development is the end goal of Canadian colonialism whether it’s 1876 or 2013. Building a strong, connected Indigenous Nationhood Movement rests on reclaiming the lands and sacred sites we have been removed from. It involves using the original names of these places, not symbolically or as an act of semantics, but as a mechanism for reconnecting our peoples to the land, our histories and our cultures. At the core, our responsibilities to our homelands, whether they are urban or rural, require a substantial number of us to inhabit them, to maintain relationships with their features and to pass that presence down to our children and grandchildren.
For every body of water – lake, river, stream, creek, spring; for every mountain, prairie, peninsula, bay, island, ridge, portage; for every trail, portage, place of birth or burial ground, and for all the places our ancestors or our families gather there is at least one Indigenous nation that has a name for that place, and there are often several. It is time to find these names, learn them and as Taiaiake Alfred says, saturate our homelands with our peoples, our languages and our ceremonies. We all have within our territories our PKOLS, many PKOLS – sacred places waiting to be restored to their place within the fabric of Indigenous societies. Whether it is a mountain, burial ground, hot springs or spring water, buffalo rubbing stone, tipi ring, teaching rocks, a medicine picking spot, or a travel route or a city street, the PKOLS reclamation provides us with impetus to not just feel inspired, but to act.
For more information on the PKOLS reclamation, click http://PKOLS.org/
To endorse the action, sign on here: http://PKOLS.org/index.php/endorsements
Spread the word on Twitter using #PKOLS and #May22 hashtags and follow @INMvmt for updates.
WEC’KINEM (Eric Pelkey) – Tsawout First Nation, 250-480-8529 / email@example.com
Supporting Media Contacts:
Taiaiake Alfred – Indigenous Nationhood Movement, 250-686-7250 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Jarrett Martineau – Media Liaison, Indigenous Nationhood Movement, 250-216-8688 / email@example.com
Eric Nordal – SocialCoast, 250-858-6014 / firstname.lastname@example.org