Local government leaders discussed the prospect of a name change for Powell River at a recent meeting.
At the May 12 community-to-community-to-community (C3) meeting, elected officials and staff from Tla’amin Nation, City of Powell River and qathet Regional District (qRD) had as an agenda item the renaming of Powell River.
Powell River mayor Dave Formosa said he has given the matter a lot of thought and his suggestion would be, in conjunction with civic elections in a year and a half, that the item should be put on the docket for the public of Powell River to vote on.
“It’s important to consider a well-thought-out question because when you do a referendum question, you really need to think about how you ask the question, and put it to the people,” said Formosa. “That would be my suggestion.”
City councillor Cindy Elliott said she is in favour of referendums. She added that referendums conducted in populations that haven’t had sufficient education and background sometimes are not that successful.
“If a referendum is held during the next election, we need some sort of education campaign to start fairly soon so the population is extremely educated about the issue prior to the vote,” said Elliott. “That benefits the entire community as far as understanding the history and what the benefit of a name like this could do for our relationship with the Tla’amin people.”
Tla'amin offers help
Tla’amin executive councillor Dillon Johnson said education is something Tla’amin could help with.
“I imagine this might be tough to justify from the city’s point of view,” said Johnson. “Resources are always really tight. It is all about how it’s framed – what the question is and what information has been shared. I just offer that we would gladly participate in that whole exercise.”
Johnson said it’s another piece in reconciliation.
City councillor CaroleAnn Leishman said people have reached out to her regarding a name change. She said she wasn’t sure if tiskwat was the recommended name for all of Powell River.
“It’s been suggested to me that maybe there’s a new name to represent the entire municipal limits because like qathet, there was no name for the entire regional district area,” said Leishman. “The gifting of the word qathet by the elders was so special to have the word meaning working together. I would welcome any suggestions and community involvement working with Tla’amin people on what would be most representative, because tiskwat, I believe, is more to do with the village site in the Townsite area. If that’s felt to be a good name to consider for the change then that’s fantastic. I’m absolutely supportive of this process.”
Councillor suggests public engagement
City councillor George Doubt said he thinks care is required if the process is undertaken. He said if the approach is a method that “we are the group of people who would like to change the name of the City of Powell River to something we think is better, do you agree or not," it will automatically divide people into people who think yes and people who think no.
“I would rather see open engagement with the public on questions like: is it time to change the name of the place where we live to something more respectful and more descriptive of who we are?” said Doubt. “If we approach that from a consultation and educational point of view and try to get people to buy into a better name to call this place in the future, there is way more chance of getting to a successful conclusion.”
Tla’amin legislator Brandon Peters said he agreed with Doubt and thinks there will be a great deal of resistance.
“People are resistant to change,” said Peters. “If you say: ‘do you want to change the name,’ the answer is going to be ‘no.’”
Blaney says dialogue is great
Tla’amin executive councillor Erik Blaney said every area in Tla’amin territory has a special name that typically relates to the resource in that area or an explanation of what the area looked like.
“Finding that common word or name is definitely going to be important and I think just having this dialogue and that people are open to it is great,” said Blaney. “Any time something comes up for change or reconciliation, Brandon is right, it’s usually him and I on Facebook trying to defend our people and our reasoning.
“People need to know that whenever Powell River comes out of our mouth, it’s painful. You look at who Israel Powell was and what he did to our people. The legislation he tabled impacted indigenous people across Canada. We lost our culture and our connection to the land because of this guy.
Blaney said Powell was also a strong advocate for residential schools.
“That’s who this guy was and what he stood for; by honouring him every time we say his name is a real slap in the face for many of us,” he added. “We need to find a way to work beyond that and reconcile and work together.”
Blaney said the referendum idea is good and provides time to put together the educational materials needed and really work with the community.
Formosa said the educational process needs to speak to the piece Blaney talked about.
“Nobody has a clue about what Erik just said, about who Powell was and the things he was responsible for,” said Formosa.
The mayor added that a committee could be formed to start having a conversation about what is the best way to start the conversation within the city.
Tla’amin hegus John Hackett said it sounded like there was consensus that community engagement sooner than later would be beneficial and there was a commitment by Tla’amin to work collaboratively in educating and moving forward.
City councillor Maggie Hathaway said council needs to sit down and discuss what direction it would like to go in.
“I don’t want everybody leaving this meeting saying we are going to change the name of Powell River,” said Hathaway. “We need to have our own local government discussion first and then move from there.”