What’s in a name? Plenty for Al­berta First Na­tions seek­ing her­itage recog­ni­tion

The Welland Tribune - - NATIONAL - JOHN COT­TER

If a group of First Na­tions get their wish, Cal­gary will be re­named Wichispa Oyade — Stoney Nakoda terms that roughly trans­late to mean el­bow town.

The Stoney Nakoda have ap­plied to have a long list of well- known places across south­ern Al­berta changed to re­flect tra­di­tional names given by their peo­ple.

Their ap­pli­ca­tion let­ter to the Al­berta gov­ern­ment also in­cludes Can­more, the Bow River, Mount Al­lan and dozens of other sites that they con­sider to be part of their ter­ri­tory.

“The Stoney Nakoda peo­ple are the orig­i­nal oc­cu­pants of the land and place names should be changed to their tra­di­tional Stoney Nakoda names in or­der to al­low the cul­ture and his­tory of these lands to be­come more known and re­spected,” reads the let­ter.

The First Na­tions ar­gue that the English or Cree names many of these places have fail to re­flect their spe­cific Indige­nous his­tory.

“This lack of recog­ni­tion con­trib­utes to an in­creas­ing threat that Stoney Nakoda her­itage will be over­run.”

The Stoney Na­tions, de­scen­dants of the Sioux, in­clude three bands with the largest re­serve lo­cated west of Cal­gary.

They have been su­ing the prov­ince and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment over their abo­rig­i­nal and treaty rights, in­clud­ing land and re­sources, in a com­plex case that was orig­i­nally filed in 2003.

The claim cov­ers a big part of south­ern Al­berta and the eastern slopes of the Rocky Moun­tains.

Dou­glas Rae, a lawyer for the First Na­tions, said the name change ap­pli­ca­tion is not part of the law­suit, but an at­tempt by the bands to prove their ties to the land.

“The Stoneys are as­sert­ing their rights, and good ev­i­dence of these claims is to for­mally ask for recog­ni­tion of the Stoney Nakoda names,” Rae said.

Some of the pro­posed name changes are fairly lit­eral trans­la­tions.

Elder Wal­lace Ear said the word for Bow River is Ijathibe Wapta, a place where peo­ple made bows out of saskatoon saplings.

They are also sug­gest­ing Mini Thni Wapta as an al­ter­na­tive, which means cold river, a de­scrip­tion that won’t sur­prise any­one who has ever tipped a ca­noe in the Bow.

The pro­posal for Can­more — Chuwapchipchiyan Kude Bi — has no di­rect con­nec­tion to its ex­ist­ing moniker. The town was named Can­more in the 1880s by a rail­way of­fi­cial af­ter an an­cient king of Scot­land.

Elder Frank Pow­der­face said the Stoney name re­flects a hunter who fooled him­self by shoot­ing at what he thought was a wolf in the wil­lows, but there was no an­i­mal, only wil­lows.

Al­berta’s Ge­o­graph­i­cal Names Pro­gram has never be­fore dealt with such an ex­ten­sive list of re­quested changes.

Ron Kel­land, pro­gram co- or­di­na­tor, said the ap­pli­ca­tion will be eval­u­ated in a process that will in­clude pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions. Re­searchers will look at old maps and his­tor­i­cal doc­u­ments.

“We are in the early stages of look­ing at it and we are very much look­ing for­ward to en­gag­ing the Stoney Nakoda on these names,” he said.

Fi­nal de­ci­sions on nam­ing nat­u­ral ge­o­graph­i­cal fea­tures are made by the Al­berta His­tor­i­cal Re­sources Foun­da­tion and the gov­ern­ment.

Chang­ing com­mu­nity names is up to the prov­ince, but re­quests that in­volve First Na­tions must be pre­sented to Ot­tawa.

Kel­land said it’s pos­si­ble for a nat­u­ral lo­ca­tion to have both an of­fi­cial and a tra­di­tional name.

In 1984, the prov­ince changed the name of Mount Lau­rie west of Cal­gary to also in­clude its Stoney Nakoda tra­di­tional name Iyam­nathka, which means flat­sur­faced rock or moun­tain.


Steam rises from build­ings in Cal­gary, Alta. If a group of First Na­tions get their wish, Cal­gary will be re­named Wichispa Oyade, Stoney Nakoda terms that roughly trans­late to mean “el­bow town.”

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