I do not subscribe to the too-common practice of sanitizing or ignoring the past. I hope the following words will cause a (re)consideration and factual recognition for Canada’s First Nations’ extensive history in our regions and country.
Many wrongs were committed against Canada’s Indigenous people with racist practices still existing. We cannot erase historical facts; however, we can take measures to deal with the results of our forebearers’ actions. It is our charge to demonstrate compassion and display recognition for the truth regarding the treatment of our First Nations’ people.
As an action towards reconciliation, communities should be incorporating First Nations names within their regional designations. Do we really need the massive number of streets named “Queen,” “Prince,” “Main” or all the other European, French, political, colonial or general-in-nature referencing identities?
It is not my aim to change existing designations but, when possible, we should incorporate place names that recognize our First Nations’ historical significance.
Today’s topic is due to an acquaintance commenting that my community of Guysborough was originally named by the Mi’kmaq as “Sedabooktook.” It is now identified in honour of a British military officer, Sir Guy Carlton, a constituent of colonizing forces which came to this land several hundred years ago and suppressed the people who lived here for thousands of years.
Some anthropologists will argue that the original inhabitants of North America migrated here 15,000 to 20,000 years ago; therefore people from the regions now known as Europe were not the discoverers of “The New World,” as many would want us to believe and as most of our place names infer.
I was born in Bible Hill, definitely not a First Nations’ name, with its Colchester County neighbouring town, Truro, being named after the city of Truro in Cornwall, United Kingdom.
Debert, another Colchester County community, is an archeological First Nations site dating back 11,000 years that is more renowned for its World War II military-training history with it too bearing a name of European origin.
With credit to Guysborough’s neighbouring town of Antigonish, according to the Wiktionary web site, “Antigonish” is from the Mi’kmaq language: “The place where the tree branches are torn off by bears gathering beechnuts. Earlier spellings of the name (ca. 1600-1700) include “Artigounesche” and “Antigoniche.” However, despite its Mi’kmaq origin, Antigonish displays Gaelic names throughout its municipality thereby, I believe, implying a Celtic origin.
For recognition of a national scale, on January 1, 2021, Australia officially changed several words in its national anthem to reflect its Indigenous people’s history. Dealing with the reality that Its indigenous people are the oldest continued civilization in the world, Australia removed reference to the country being “young and free” and changed it to “for we are one and free.”
When a country can use four words to recognize its Indigenous culture, surely Canadians too can make changes to our practices for establishing place names.
With many issues causing divisiveness within Canada and throughout the world, and with compromise being a trait of human survival and advancement, a gesture such as historical place-name recognitions should become a common practice by governments and communities.
History cannot be changed but it can be truthfully recognized with positive outcomes via respectful actions.