Municipal councils deserve support in lobbying the provincial government to add Unama’ki to the “Welcome to Cape Breton” sign at the Canso Causeway.
At January’s regular monthly meeting, Port Hawkesbury Town Council approved a draft of a letter to be sent to Nova Scotia Premier and Minister of Aboriginal Affairs, Stephen McNeil, requesting the Mi’kmaq name for Cape Breton be added to the sign welcoming motorists to the island.
On January 15, Antigonish Town Council added their voice to the effort as did the Municipality of Antigonish County the following night, this along with a letter of support from the Municipality of the District of Guysborough.
Port Hawkesbury Mayor Brenda Chisholm Beaton called it a “very simple, easy gesture that will take tremendous strides with regard to truth and reconciliation.”
The idea arose during the “One Cape Breton: Future Forward Leaders Summit” held in Port Hawkesbury in November.
The mayor is seeking the support of all five First Nations communities in Cape Breton, as well as the island’s five municipal units.
We’koqma’q First Nation chief Rod Googoo is confident chiefs will back the idea, saying it will “create awareness and start a discussion” because “Cape Breton is not just one culture, there’s a culture that’s been there for thousands of years…”
The chief reasoned that when bilingual signs in French and Gaelic were introduced around Nova Scotia there was widespread support, and this would be the same thing.
Googoo noted that Unama’ki translates to “Land of the Fog” and holds special significance to Mi’kmaq culture, stating “We’d all be very proud to see a sign ‘Welcome to Unama’ki’ because that’s our home. “That’s where we’re from.”
While there is still a lot of work required to mend the dysfunctional relationship with Canada’s first inhabitants, and this is essentially a symbolic move that will not easily wash away the stains of history, it is a start in the right direction.
The change will bring cultures together, make a marginalized population feel included, show the world that Cape Breton is inclusive, and the new sign would be more historically accurate.
The very first people to settle the island called it Unama’ki thousands of years before Europeans arrived, settled, and unilaterally changed the name to Ile Royal, then eventually Cape Breton.
The name Unama’ki also carries tremendous meaning to the first people of Canada, and that alone should be reason enough. The Mi’kmaq people have been left out of the conversation for far too long and it’s time to right past wrongs.
If it takes a few coats of paint to continue this process, that seems a modest step toward a greater understanding, and eventually, a future where all cultures work together.