Traditional Place Names

Halq'eméylem place names as documented in A Stó:lô-Coast Salish Historical Atlas

Interestingly, the following two news releases, both within the past 3 weeks on opposite ends of the country, have indicated a strong need for having traditional place names officially recognized on maps.

Aboriginal place names may be brought back to B.C.
by Craig McInnes; With a file from Amy O'Brian
Vancouver Sun (Saturday, March 15, 2003)

VICTORIA -- The provincial government wants to start recognizing aboriginal place names as part of a reconciliation with First Nations in B.C.

Premier Gordon Campbell has been talking privately with native leaders recently about ways native history can be recognized along with the European names that now dominate maps of the province.

"I think one of the challenges we face with First Nations is that they feel on many occasions that we've tried to erase their past," Campbell said Friday.

Chief Ed John of the First Nations Summit said the loss of aboriginal names is an important issue, partly because European explorers used the idea that the lands they were naming were "terra nullus," or empty lands.

"It's an old concept that was used in history by colonial powers to justify their assertion of Crown sovereignty," said John.

"There are people who have occupied this land and they have long histories and names for all these places. It's an important issue with respect to the truth."

Campbell said he is not considering changing the names of cities or the province.

But John says a new name for British Columbia is worth considering.

"The old colonial boys might object but maybe it's time to have a real serious discussion about that name," he said.

John does not have a new name in mind but says the current name does not reflect either native history or the current demographics of the province.

"No disrespect at all to anyone British but it's hardly British."

Although dozens of places and towns in B.C. have native-sounding names, many of them are bastardizations of the "true" names, said Henry Davis, an associate professor of linguistics at the University of B.C.

For example, the proper spelling of what most people know as Squamish, is actually sk xwu7mesh, Davis said.

(The 7 symbolizes what linguists call a "glottal stop," which indicates a sound similar to that heard in the "uh" of "uh oh.")

Placing the First Nations spellings of places and towns under the English spellings on road signs would be a good start to recognizing places by their original names, Davis suggested.

If such a project was completed, the town of Lillooet would have the secondary name of sat', and signs pointing towards Black Tusk, near Whistler, would have the secondary name of nq'il'qtens ku skenknap, which means seat of thunder, Davis said.

Three years ago, the provincial government changed a number of place names in B.C. to eliminate the term "squaw," which is considered by natives to be derogatory.

That change stirred little controversy, but an attempt by Prime Minister Jean Chretien to rename Mount Logan in the Yukon in honour of former prime minister Pierre Trudeau kicked up a firestorm of protest and was eventually dropped.

While few people objected to honouring Trudeau, they were against dropping the name given to the mountain in honour of a distinguished Canadian from an earlier era.

Campbell said he recognizes that names can be an emotional issue, which is why it is important to come to terms with aboriginal place names in B.C.

"No one's claiming this is necessarily going to be easy," said Campbell, who says recognizing aboriginal history will not mean erasing the history of the province since the arrival of the Europeans.

"I'm willing to listen to proposals that are brought forward. I think that we want to recognize all of the history of British Columbia, not part of it. Not one part to the exclusion of another part."

John said the names issue will be an important part of talks on reconciliation between the province and First Nations, a concept the Liberal government highlighted in the recent Speech from the Throne.

But even among First Nations, names can be a complicated issue as there are 26 different aboriginal languages in B.C.

Some features have more than one aboriginal name, John said.

"The Fraser River, it covers many different tribes, but the people in the lower Fraser call it Stolo. The people in the upper Fraser, in my territory, we call it Ltha Koh. Koh means river."

Davis said the Lillooet people call it sat'atqwa7.

© Copyright 2003 Vancouver Sun

Labrador Innu and Inuit want traditional place names recognized
by Paul Pigget, CBC News, Happy Valley - Goose Bay
CBC Iqaluit Regional News Summary (Tuesday - February 25, 2003 - 8:30)

Labrador Innu and Inuit want the provincial government to stop giving local lakes and rivers English names. Both groups say the practice has already diminished the region's aboriginal heritage. Now they want existing native names to officially recognized. Paul Pigget (sp) reports.

Inuit broadcaster Kanami Tuglavina (sp) says the Labrador coast has a rich history of local names.

"Today they're getting to be known in Kadlunat (sp) names."

Kadlunat means non Inuit. Tuglavina says provincial mapmakers often substitute English words for the traditional Inuktitut. She says that could confuse Inuit travellers and hunters.

"We have to look closely at the map, really closely, and to identify exactly where that Kadlunat name is referring to."

One example on the north coast is Taber Island (sp), something the Inuit call Napatuligak (sp). The world tells an Inuktitut speaker that the remote island has trees. Tuglavina says important information like that often gets lost in the translation. Anthropologist Peter Armitage (sp) agrees that mapmakers are throwing away an important part of this province's heritage.

"I hope we don't have to wait for land claims to be signed in order for us to proceed with this name. I know that in other jurisdictions they didn't wait for the outcome of those processes, they just recognized the aboriginal history outright and got cracking and accepted the names."

Innu names for lakes and streams along the proposed highway between Cartwright and Happy Valley - Goose Bay are expected to be a major issue during the upcoming environmental assessment of that project.

Paul Pigget, CBC News, Happy Valley - Goose Bay


Crown Land Referrals Workshop II: First Nations Success Stories

Workshop Summary by Steven DeRoy


Natives get a veto on government decisions

Vaughn Palmer, Vancouver Sun, Friday, November 01, 2002

VICTORIA - The B.C. Liberals have laid down a new policy on aboriginal interests that will affect virtually every decision involving provincially owned land and resources.

The policy, scheduled for release today, applies to all government ministries, agencies and Crown corporations.

It likewise applies to "all decisions . . . that are likely to affect aboriginal interests" -- which, keep in mind, involve First Nation claims to ownership of the entire province.

"This policy is effective immediately," declares a government document, in terms reserved for the highest-level directives from the cabinet table.

"Consistent application of this policy across government is essential. It is important that the methods outlined below are understood and applied in their entirety."

The title identifies it as a "provincial policy for consultation with First Nations," harking back to a similarly titled policy established by the New Democratic Party government in 1998. But the new policy goes well beyond anything contemplated by the New Democrats.

The previous government put the emphasis on consultation. Officials were required to hold meetings with First Nations, assess the "potential" of their claims, keep them informed, and provide them with opportunities to participate and offer advice.

The Liberals, mindful of recent court decisions, now want officials to assess the "soundness" of aboriginal interests -- i.e. the likelihood the natives might win if they went to court.

The new policy also requires officials to "accommodate" First Nations, through negotiations, side deals or other forms of agreement.

"Mere consultation," to quote the 1997 Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Delgamuukw case, is no longer enough. Instead, natives have what amounts to a veto over provincial decision-making, which is apparently what the courts intended.

The new policy sprawls over almost 40 pages. I'm told the full text will be posted, perhaps later today, on the government Web site (, under the Ministry of Sustainable Resource Management.

But essentially the policy lays out a multi-step process. Officials must first assess whether the decision on land or resource use will affect aboriginal interests.

If the answer is "yes," then the affected First Nations -- or nations, since many interests overlap -- should be advised "as early as possible."

"It is not likely that this assessment would result in a determination that consultation is not required except in very specific cases," warns the policy, citing measures to combat floods and epidemics as being among the few circumstances where First Nations need not be told in advance that their interests will be affected.

Once consultation is under way, further assessments are required. Which aboriginal interests will be infringed and to what extent? Can the infringement be justified in the broader public interest? Even if it can, how can the natives be compensated?

Throughout, the policy requires provincial officials to exercise an extraordinary degree of discretion. Their assessments must be "thorough." Consultation must be "diligent, meaningful, effective, and adequate." All of these are judgment calls, subject always to second-guessing by lawyers and the courts.

Indeed, the policy would appear to demand that provincial officials conduct a mini-land claims trial in some circumstances.

To assess the "soundness" of a particular aboriginal interest, they are required to consider evidence presented by First Nations as well as whatever they can assemble themselves from archeological research, historical evidence, local knowledge and legal advice.

Provincial officials are likely to spend a great deal of time closeted with lawyers, for the policy contains a number of reminders about the need to consult "the legal services branch, ministry of attorney-general."

The Liberals are optimistic that by applying these guidelines seriously, they can make some progress.

But it is hard to be optimistic, with some First Nations already complaining that the consultation guidelines were themselves produced "without adequate consultation."

"If resolution cannot be gained through negotiation, attempted accommodation or other methods," says the policy with a near-audible sigh, "it will be advisable to re-evaluate the project or decision and or seek legal advice before proceeding further."

Officials are further advised "records should be kept" on their efforts to consult and accommodate. Then if things end up in court, they can at least demonstrate to the judges that they tried.

Vaughn Palmer can be reached by e-mail at:


Paper: Developments in the Law of Consultation and Aboriginal People - 2002

by Robert Freedman and Hugh Braker, Q.C., Braker & Company
reproduced with permission and courtesy of the B.C. Aboriginal Fisheries Commission