An information session for community leaders outlined the process being undertaken regarding a possible name change for Powell River.
The meeting was held virtually on March 10. Harmony Johnson, co-chair of the joint working group between City of Powell River and Tla’amin Nation, said about 20 years ago, the city and nation were the first municipality and First Nation in Canada to create a formalized relationship through the community accord, and a subsequent protocol agreement.
“In building that relationship, and formalizing it, and having conversations, in building shared approaches, I think comfort has increased in talking about challenging issues and having difficult conversations,” said Johnson. “The ability to have courageous conversations is a sign of trust.
“I think the nation felt that the time was right to broach a difficult conversation around the name of the city. Last year, the nation made a formal request to consider a more inclusive and respectful name that reflects the values we carry about the land we all love and live on, and better reflects the history of this place.”
Johnson said a big part of it is the current name of the city, which memorializes an individual. She said the practice of naming places after people is not customary in Tla’amin ways. Johnson said the community accord guides the process by which the possible renaming exercise is being carried out. She said the working group is not a decision-making body.
“We are here to carry out this process of listening, and conversation, and to make a recommendation to city council,” said Johnson.
The working group is made up of elected and non-elected members from the city and Tla’amin, added Johnson.
“I’ve found the working group to be a very positive and respectful and collaborative space,” said Johnson. “This is a conversation about the possible name change, it’s not about what to change the name to. The conversation is right now focused on the decision to change the name: yes or no.”
Johnson said part of the mandate is communication with everyone about why to consider a name change, how it is related to values, and does it relate to the context around reconciliation. She said she’s interested in a positive conversation that focuses on values and the shared love for this place, and the values that bring people together as a community.
“Name change processes can build more welcoming and inclusive spaces for all of us,” said Johnson, adding that the process is not to erase the past. “It’s about acknowledging that past, how it’s with us in the present, good and bad, and how to draw what’s positive into a future that is inclusive and welcoming and promising for all of us.
“We all have a strong identity tied to this place. We have a lot to be proud of in this community. This conversation can be positive if we approach it with curiosity, kindness and mutual respect.”
Trina Isakson, one of the consultants hired to help oversee the process, said some people are under the impression that the option is to name the community Powell River or Tis’kwat, and that is not the case.
“There’s no list of names, there’s no decision on the language of the names, the focus is on exploring the rationale behind a possible name change and having people understand where the interest for that comes from,” said Isakson.
Lisa Moffatt, the other consultant, outlined the timeline. From March to May is the public engagement portion of the exercise. In June, there will be a report back to the working group on what has been heard, and the joint working group recommendation to council is forecast for July, she said.
“Trina and I anticipate doing lots of listening,” added Moffatt.
A public survey is available at powellriver.ca/pnc and the link to the survey, which closes March 25, is available at the bottom of the homepage on the right hand side. The team is also planning five public information sessions for April, said Moffatt.
“Our goal is to be responsive to what the questions are in the community,” said Isakson, “and learn about those as they come up.”