PORT HOOD: Inverness County councillors have decided to support an initiative by Port Hawkesbury Town Council to have the word “Unama’ki” added to a sign at the Canso Causeway greeting visitors to Cape Breton.
“It shouldn’t be a big deal,” said Jim Mustard, councillor for the Inverness area. “They [the Mi’kmaq] are reclaiming their language and their identity, and this is just a show of respect. We’re on a path of reconciliation, and this is not a big deal for us.”
Inverness Council was approached by Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm-Beaton to support the addition of the word, which is the traditional Mi’kmaw name of Cape Breton. In specific, the word means “Island of Fog” for First Nations people.
The idea to have “Unama’ki” added to the signage was first advanced by elder Ma’git Poulette of Waycobah at the “One Cape Breton: Future Forward Leaders’ Summit.” The Town of Port Hawkesbury hosted the summit in late November of 2017. The idea behind the meeting was to provide the opportunity for First Nations and municipalities to discuss how to collaborate to address regional challenges and opportunities.
As a result of Poulette’s suggestion, Port Hawkesbury is in the process of contacting Premier Stephen McNeil about having the signage changed. In addition to serving as Premier, McNeil is also the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs.
While Inverness Council decided to support Port Hawkesbury’s idea, councillors spent some time discussing what adding the Mi’kmaw word might mean for other cultures.
“When someone who’s French drives across, they could argue they want the French word there,” Whycocomagh councillor John MacLennan said. “Or the Scots will want the Gaelic there.”
Councillor Laurie Cranton said that if too much text is added to the sign, it would be difficult for drivers to see what is printed.
Deputy Warden Alfred Poirier noted that with Cape Breton being marketed as a travel destination, adding the text “Unama’ki” might confuse potential visitors.
“Where do you draw the line?” said John Dowling. “How many names can you have on there?”
After some discussion, councillors united in feeling that adding the word would be best. Poirier made a motion to support Port Hawkesbury’s request to the province, Dowling seconded, and the motion passed unanimously.