Vancouver park board chair Stuart Mackinnon's motion seeks to advance decolonization efforts

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      When, in 1792, Capt. George Vancouver named the body of water that today flows beneath the Lions Gate Bridge the Burrard Inlet (after his friend Harry Burrard), Vancouver did not actually name it but, more accurately, renamed it.

      By the time the British explorer arrived, the Tsleil-Waututh people had lived in this area for thousands of years. And to them, the Burrard Inlet was called səl̓ilw̓ət (spelled Sleilwaut using the English alphabet, according to the Bill Reid Centre).

      On September 17, the Vancouver park board will consider a motion to learn the names that the Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh people called areas that today fall under the jurisdiction of the board. From there, the civic body would work with members of the three Coast Salish nations to “acknowledge those names at parks, beaches, and other public spaces within the jurisdiction of the Park Board, in a way deemed most appropriate by the Nations”.

      In a telephone interview, the motion’s author, Green party park-board chair Stuart Mackinnon, said these acknowledgments should become a part of Vancouver’s reconciliation process.

      “Part of the colonization of Vancouver was the changing of traditional names,” he told the Straight. “My motion is part of reconciliation in Vancouver, to recognize that these Indigenous people have been here forever and that they had place names long before we were here.”

      Mackinnon emphasized that the motion does not specify what actions might be taken next.

      “No one, at this point, is talking about renaming anything,” he said. “But I was heartened during the [2010] Olympics that on the Sea to Sky Highway, that they had road signs that were in both English and Squamish. I think something like that could be done in various places in Vancouver.”

      Ḵálḵalilh Deanna Lewis is a councillor for the Squamish Nation and a member of the council’s committee on language, culture, and heritage. She worked on those signs that Mackinnon mentioned, which place Squamish names alongside English ones from Vancouver International Airport through the city and up the Sea to Sky corridor to Whistler.

      “Identifying and letting the broader community know about them [Squamish names], it feels like our cultural heritage is alive again,” Lewis said in a telephone interview. “It’s reconciliation and having ownership back.”

      She explained that the signs spark questions, leading to conversations that acknowledge and create a larger understanding of B.C.’s colonial past and the Indigenous people who lived in B.C. before Europeans arrived.

      “To understand the people, you need to speak their language,” Lewis said. “Revitalizing these languages, we’re bringing back a sense of belonging and a sense that we should respect that history and culture.”