The Hamilton Spectator

Why B.C. is right to drop term British Columbian


In late January, British Columbia’s government issued a writer’s guide for public servants. The purpose is to create a template that facilitate­s more respect toward the cultural integrity of Indigenous Peoples living in the province, as well as newcomers and refugees.

The guide recommends that instead of using British Columbian as a way to identify provincial residents, a better vernacular would be to say “people living in B.C.” This syncs with a Research Co. survey conducted in October 2022. The survey found one in five people have an issue with the name “British Columbia” because of its lack of Indigenous acknowledg­ment. And, of course, the word “British,” which stands as an epitaph of colonialis­m and the assimilati­on of Indigenous cultures.

Has the government gone too far in this suggested change?

No. In fact, the name-changing needs to go further. I don’t have to look far to see what’s possible or where there could be improvemen­t.

Late last year, the American Ornitholog­ical Society (AOS) announced it was embarking on a process to rename dozens of birds with possessive names. For example, Townsend’s Warbler, a little songbird that sings to let you know it’s in the garden, is named after a 19th-century ornitholog­ist who also stole Indigenous skulls to examine.

Yikes, poor bird having to bear that moniker!

In a commentary published in Nature, Ecology, Evolution, scientists have argued that even plant names with an associatio­n with imperialis­m, racism and slavery should be changed. They specifical­ly point fingers at the plant genus Hibbertia, a collection of plants found in Australia named after George Hibbert, a British patron who profited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

The award-winning Canadian Explorer Collection of Roses is another example. It pays tribute to European explorers who first stepped foot on North American soil. A pristine white shrub rose named for Henry Hudson is part of the collection. Among other claims to fame, Hudson is credited with laying the foundation for the Dutch colonizati­on of New York state.

There’s an argument that renaming erases history. It’s a point that’s come up in renaming Dundas Street in Toronto. I disagree. Colonialis­m robbed Indigenous Peoples of their language and relabelled just about everything. Renaming isn’t about reverting to those lost names. It’s about creating a new legacy that builds a more inclusive society.

British Columbia has not been renamed, it simply evolved to be more representa­tive of the people living here. New monikers for our fine feathered friends, for example — aside from removing the names of individual­s who perpetrate­d acts of systemic racism — should be more descriptiv­e of the bird, its appearance and habits. The aforementi­oned Townsend’s Warbler for example might be better named for its love of singing.

I may no longer be a British Columbian but rather someone who lives in B.C., and that’s OK.

 ?? THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO ?? A government guide for public servants recommends dropping use of the term “British Columbian” and instead using “people living in B.C.”
THE CANADIAN PRESS FILE PHOTO A government guide for public servants recommends dropping use of the term “British Columbian” and instead using “people living in B.C.”

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