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City renaming request discussed by Powell River councillors and mayor

Committee of the whole wants to initiate talks with Tla’amin Nation
Powell River Chamber of Commerce’s map of Powell River was recently defaced, along with the Wildwood bridge, with reference to Israel Powell’s legacy, after whom the City of Powell River was named. The city’s committee of the whole has given direction to staff to begin conversations with Tla’amin Nation about renaming the city.

City of Powell River council will consider a process to begin discussions on the potential renaming of Powell River.

At the June 15 committee of the whole meeting, mayor Dave Formosa said at the C3 meeting on May 12 between the city, Tla’amin Nation and qathet Regional District, there was a request from the Tla’amin government for the city to consider a name change. Formosa said Tla’amin had a suggested name change, which was tiskwat.

“What I understand is the name of Israel Powell is offensive,” added Formosa.

He said there were 94 letters supporting the renaming in the committee agenda package and nine not supporting.

“Since Kamloops, there has been quite a change for many people,” said Formosa. “I also believe there was maybe some campaign, knowing we were speaking about it, so folks got organized and that’s the beginning of a conversation that needs to start happening.

“What I would like to do is spearhead this conversation with our friends at Tla’amin and then come up with a group from here and a group from there getting together to have a chat about how to communicate with the people who live in the city. Everybody is going to weigh in.”

Formosa said he wanted to chat about the prospect of gathering some city council members and staff and talk to Tla’amin representatives and speak about how both parties might get together and start the communication with residents of the city on the name change request by Tla’amin.

Elliott commits to involvement

Councillor Cindy Elliott said she is committed to being involved in a process that leads this conversation.

“My background in work that deals with treaties and negotiations around indigenous issues and building policy in a number of areas uniquely qualifies me to be someone who helps us figure out what this process should look like and to contribute everything I have in the way of facilitating conversations to this issue,” said Elliott. “I’m in favour of us sorting out a way to move forward.”

Councillor George Doubt said he is in favour of the mayor and councillors meeting with Tla’amin to discuss renaming Powell River.

“It’s time to have that conversation,” said Doubt. “I’ve read all of the emails that are coming in. Some of them are obviously copies of the same email that has been circulated. The vast majority are in favour. There are also a considerable number of people who are voicing concerns and with conversation, a lot of those concerns could be addressed because they come from a place where education can make a difference.”

Councillor Rob Southcott said he has one concern: that the matter not be tokenistic. He said in the western Judeo-Christian culture, naming is mythologically powerful.

“I feel we need to own doing this and that means more than just being a rational exercise,” added Southcott. “It comes from the heart and us as whole people. That raises real questions for me and those are the kinds of questions that could go into the process of looking into what is actually involved.

“I totally support the idea of our community and the Tla’amin community investigating this. I love the spirit of it, motivated by the events in Kamloops, but I think the idea was expressed before that event happened.”

Mayor favours referendum

Formosa said the idea is to get the process started.

“We were asked this by Tla’amin,” said Formosa. “It’s clear to me that members of Tla’amin Nation find the name hurtful and they have their reasons for it. We have letters where people write in defending the name. We need to have a conversation with our residents and try to get all of the information out there so they can make an informed decision.

“I’d like to see it go to a referendum. I feel for my friends at Tla’amin. We need to start having this conversation as a community. I’d like to get permission from this council to start that process.”

Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said a lot of people have reached out to her from the settler, or non-indigenous community, who have stated until they knew the history of the name Powell they wouldn’t have been in favour of a name change. The education regarding who Powell was and what he represented changed perspectives, added Leishman.

She said she supports having initial conversations on how the process could work in a collaborative way. She said at some point, staff will have to be asked to come back with information on a process and legislatively, what is involved.

“It was quite a lengthy process at the qathet Regional District with what had to happen,” said Leishman, with regard to changing the name to qathet from Powell River Regional District.

Corporate officer Chris Jackson said the matter should be referred to city council and staff would prepare a resolution. Jackson said perhaps the committee could give unanimous consent to refer appointments of council members to be representatives on the initiation of discussions with Tla’amin on the possibility of changing the city’s name, and direction to staff to prepare a report to consider procedural requirements and other administrative matters. The committee gave unanimous consent to do so.

Formosa said the matter could be set over until the July 15 council meeting.