Proposed name changes not all that straightforward

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While the Stoney Nakoda First Nations have applied to have 161 names of geographical places and communities changed, it turns out not everything they have applied for is actually possible.

Alberta Geographical Names Program coordinator Ron Kelland said the application he has received is the biggest one on record for his program, but some of the name changes included do not fall under his jurisdiction.

“The Geographical Names Program and the role of Culture and Tourism is only applicable to physical geographical features like lakes, rivers, creeks, mountains and hills,” Kelland said. “To rename cultural features, or manmade features like towns cities and villages, we are not involved in that process at all.”

The application supports the First Nations land claim in the Court of Queen’s Bench for right and title of Stoney Nakoda traditional lands, according to a letter from legal counsel Douglas Rae.

“In order to lawfully recognize, preserve, and provide insight into the Stoney Nakoda culture and history on these lands, we are submitting that certain existing place names should be changed to reflect the traditional names given by the Stoney Nakoda people,” wrote Rae in his letter to the geographical program.

“By adopting Stoney Nakoda traditional names, Alberta would subsequently acknowledge the Nation’s immemorial and prevailing presence in these places. Additionally, Alberta would also acknowledge the traditional importance and usefulness of the places to the Stoney Nakoda.”

Canmore council recently passed a policy concerning Truth and Reconciliation efforts by the municipality out of the established 94 Calls to Action. Within that policy there is direction around including Indigenous language and names, which Mayor John Borrowman said supports creating relationships with the community’s First Nations neighbours.

“We are quite serious in our intent to work with the Stoney Nakoda in more meaningful ways and build better relations with them,” Borrowman said. “One of the ways we can do that is to respond to a request like this … I am open to the discussion and conversation.”

Within the application for renaming are the communities of Canmore, which was proposed to be Chuwapchipchiyan Kude Bi, and Calgary as Wichispa Oyade.

The translation for Chuwapchipchiyan Kude Bi is “shooting at an animal in the willows (because there was no animal, it only looked like there was, he was only shooting at willows),” according to a report on traditional place names by the Chiniki Research Team and Stoney Elders.

The report was commissioned originally in 1987 for the Chiniki Band Council and is called Ozade – Mnotha Wapta Mâkochî.

Elder Frank Powderface provided the explanation of the translation in the report where he said he believes the name came from an incident where a hunter fooled himself.

He told a story about hunting with his father-in-law at Suchiyan Chacahu bakthe (Broken pup’s back) at dusk, when the light was low.

The leader of the hunting party, his father-in-law, suddenly cried out there was a black wolf lying in the trees. Powderface’s brother-in-law Lazarus aimed and fired, but there was no movement.

“As we got closer what appeared to be a wolf now was one of these blackened burnt tree stumps in the mountains,” he said. “So Chuwapchitpchiyan Kude Bi under similar circumstances got its name. Shooting at an animal in the willows, but actually only shooting at the willows.”

The full list of names totals 161, and Kelland acknowledged it is the largest name change application he knows of in the history of the program. Typically, he said, he receives applications individually, or two or three at a time.

“At the moment, we are still in the very early stages of looking at this application,” he said. “Typically, at this point for a typical naming proposal I would begin doing research into the history of the area using local histories, archives, or any documents I become aware of.

“Then we would usually at that point also begin engaging First Nation communities on the proposed names, as well as getting in touch with relevant municipalities to gauge their opinion.

“With such a large number to look at, I am not sure if we are going to follow that same process. We may have to look at the list and make priority calls as to which to look at first.”

Not all the locations applied for renaming have official names currently, and some have multiple Indigenous names associated to them.

There are also other First Nations that may have names for the geographical features, like the Blackfoot and Tsuu T’ina First Nations. Kelland said the engagement process for renaming involves consulting all First Nations for input.

There has already been opposition from Piikani Nation Chief Stanley C. Grier, who is reported to have submitted a letter disputing the Stoney Nakoda as the original occupants. Siksika Nation voices, also part of the Blackfoot confederacy with the Piikani and Kainai, have also criticized the application for geographical renaming.

Kelland’s job is not entirely focused on the geographical naming program, with other historical resource management responsibilities within his purview. He said the program has received fewer than 10 applications in the last five years, and only five changes were approved.

Once Kelland has prepared a proposal, he presents to the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation. That government board then makes a recommendation to the Minister of Culture and Tourism, who is currently Ricardo Miranda.

“People can apply to have new names adopted, and have names changed, or even have existing official names altered in some way,” Kelland said.

Canmore’s most recent geographical name change saw Chinaman’s Peak on Mount Lawrence Grassi renamed Ha Ling Peak in honour of a Chinese mine camp cook who won a bet about how fast he could climb the mountain in 1896.

As the result of efforts of the Chinese community, in 1997 the name was changed to honour the person and remove what was seen as a derogatory slur from the maps.

Mount Laurie west of Calgary, meanwhile, was renamed with the traditional Stoney Nakoda name Lyanmathka, or Yamnuska before that.

The Rocky Mountain Outlook requested to speak with a representative of the Stoney Nakoda First Nation, however did not receive a response before press deadline.

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