Place Names in Amiskwaciwâskahikan / ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ (Edmonton)

Mayor Don Iveson and Chief Billy Morin at a naming ceremony in February. ((Lydia Neufeld/CBC))

Bravo to Amiskwaciwâskahikan / ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ (Edmonton) Mayor Don Iveson for supporting decolonization through the use of place names in real nêhiyawêwin, for his own work in support of Cree literacy, and for his eloquence in defending those choices. I won’t name the city councillor who is arguing for literal translations or phonetic renderings – which entrench the colonial model that helped erase the Cree presence in the first place.  Would they even for a minute consider doing this to place names in French?

Mayor Don Iveson said such questions are best left to the city’s naming committee. But he said using Indigenous names is “a significant act” of reconciliation.

“I think it’s really important to remember that the language that’s actually precedent here — that’s been spoken here for thousands of years — those languages are Indigenous languages and in particular, Cree,” Iveson said.

“In the gesture of working to acknowledge that the language of this place historically was a different language, that’s how we recognize and decolonize what is otherwise a narrative of conquest — and language is part of conquest.”

Driving out Indigenous language was one of the reasons for the residential school system, Iveson said — “to excise cultural practices and languages from Indigenous peoples.”

In a subsequent article, Wilton Littlechild – whose family name was obviously subjected to the same treatment by some missionary or government lackey around the treaty period – responds:

(Ironically, I am a little surprised at the way they’ve chosen to render “trail” in syllabics with one character per English letter. I suspect a speaker might have given mêskanâs / ᒣᐢᑲᓈᐢ for trail. I might have left the English word “trail” in English, or written it ᐟᕒᐁᓬ. But transliteration of English words in Cree syllabics is another issue altogether.


About Arden Ogg

Arden Ogg is Director of the Cree Literacy Network, launched in 2010 with the goal of creating Cree language literacy materials suitable for use by learners of all ages.
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