Should Sechelt change its name?

Joe Dougherty of Roberts Creek writes in with an intriguing proposal: changing the name of Sechelt to shíshálh.

He sums it up like this:

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“Many of the events I attend have, as prelude, the reminder that the event is taking place on unceded land. A good acknowledgement to make.

“Now that we know how to say the word, why don’t we change the spelling? Keeping the name misspelled and mispronounced reinforces our occupation of the land and trivializes the culture of the people who’ve lived here for thousands of years.

“Time to show some respect.”

Dougherty’s suggestion is very much in step with the times.

Powell River Regional District board voted last month to ask the provincial government to change its name to qathet Regional District. It was a narrow 4-3 decision and has sparked considerable controversy over whether the name change should have been put to the people in a referendum. Some residents are not averse to changing the name, but aren’t too fond of qathet as the new moniker.

In the Tla’amin (formerly Sliammon) language, the word qathet is pronounced KA’thet and means “people working together.” Partly to further reconciliation and partly to dispel the confusion of the regional district having the same name as the municipality, board chair Patrick Brabazon reportedly approached hegus (chief) Clint Williams with a request to bring forward a new name. Band elders who are working on a Tla’amin dictionary came up with qathet.

The case for changing Sechelt to shíshálh might seem more straightforward but in fact presents almost the opposite challenge. Instead of eliminating confusion, it could create it.

Currently the shíshálh Nation and the District of Sechelt are easily identifiable as separate governmental entities – one first nation, the other municipal. Changing the municipality’s name to the District of shíshálh would blur that distinction, especially for off-Coasters. Indeed, some band members might regard it as a form of cultural appropriation if the district even proposed taking the traditional name for itself.

As well, the shíshálh Nation continues to operate also as the Sechelt Indian Band, its municipal entity is called the Sechelt Indian Government District and its legislative underpinning is the 1986 Sechelt Indian Band Self-Government Act.

So the Sechelt/shíshálh case is highly complex.

Still, Dougherty has put the idea out there. Maybe it will take on a life of its own.

Copyright © 2017 Powell River Peak

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