The Name Matters Team, a group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people living throughout qathet Regional District, advocates for respectful and inclusive place names (region-wide) that reflect these lands’ oral history and the present-day communities residing on them. Led by Indigenous perspectives and priorities, our focus is advocacy, education and awareness grounded in compassion and understanding.
Over the last few months, we have received numerous letters of support for the name change of the city currently known as Powell River. All quotes shared in this piece are from people living in this region; while many of them live within the city, very few authors wanted to use the city name as part of their attribution because of its meaning, history and impacts.
All quotes are shared with permission and reflect much of what was shared in the letters. We believe this sharing of perspectives will be a positive way for community members to share and learn from one another.
“This is not an issue about whether Powell was a good or a bad person. This is about the future of our community and region, about building new relationships across cultures with sensitivity and mutual respect, and about ensuring we do not pass to our children the responsibility of building a meaningful relationship with the Tla’amin people because we did not have the courage to do the right thing.” ~ Ross McMillan, qathet resident
“The legacy of colonization and racism and segregation in this community will not disappear when the name changes, and that is precisely why being proactive about the name change matters: if we do not act against the entrenched complicity of the settler community in the ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples, then we are abetting it.
“Yes, the name change is a way of taking a stand against the erasure of Indigenous people and the theft of their lands. Yes, the name change is a statement that the settler community allies itself on the side of Indigenous sovereignty and meaningful reconciliation, and not on the side of preserving the racist status quo.
“The presence of so much ignorant and reactionary opposition demonstrates just exactly why it is imperative that settler institutions take a leadership role here and move forward with this act of reconciliation. Constantly allowing bad-faith opposition to derail the process is an insult to the Tla’amin people whose lands we occupy, as well as to the majority of the settler community who wish to divest ourselves of the legacy of colonialism that we have inherited.” ~ Erin Innes, Toxw’nach (Okeover Inlet)
“Some may identify strongly with the name Powell River as place names carry deep personal, cultural, familial and historical connections. That name, however, is disrespectful and hurtful to members of the Tla’amin Nation.
“When Israel Powell’s name is removed from our city’s name, history won’t be erased. The historical implications of his actions will remain unchanged; by removing his name we are acknowledging a difficult and uncomfortable part of our history.” ~ J.Z. Goodson, qathet resident
“I reiterate that I strongly oppose the option of a referendum, assent voting or a community survey as a solution; it is a divisive and inappropriate mechanism to address such an important and sensitive matter.
“We elect representatives to show leadership and help all community members navigate difficult issues. As a community, we must balance majority rules and minority rights.
“In this case, this is not a decision for majority rule. Instead, it is an essential and meaningful act rooted in reconciliation and our Canadian democratic values and the constitutionally enshrined rights of minorities. We must also acknowledge that the only reason the Tla’amin people are minorities on this land is due to colonial occupation and targeted genocide.” ~ K. Street, qathet resident
“I am not necessarily a proponent of name changes in every case as a way to honour tradition, there being different ways of doing this depending on what is appropriate. However, in the case of Powell River, it is a matter of healing; choosing to preserve the name not only reinforces the legacy of colonialism but also is inherently antagonistic given the actual contribution from its namesake.
“From a branding perspective, the city name is misrepresentative. It draws immediate attention to an individual and the colonial legacy while concealing the sacrifices made to support a relatively short period of economic success. People were removed from the land and river they had been integrated with for millenia, and the river was destroyed, all to serve a mill that is no longer viable.
“Is that the legacy we want to preserve in the city name? Are these the values we want to hold up and have reflected in our place name?”
“I believe all history is important to preserve and share as it should be a source of learning and a roadmap for how far we’ve come. But keeping the current city name actually does a disservice to local history through misrepresentation and inhibits us in moving forward collectively and creating a more inclusive future.” ~ B. Janes, qathet resident
“The Tla’amin nation will continue to survive and thrive despite acts of past and present colonial violence. Not changing the name of this place is a reflection of our consciousness and an act of colonization. This is not about white guilt, this is about ethical responsibility.
“I do agree this is a very divisive subject. You either contribute to white centrist belief systems or you are practicing anti-racism. There is no middle. There is no negotiation. It is either/or.
“What side of history do you want your name to be on when future generations look back? I support the name change now, forever, as a beginning towards truth and reconciliation, not an end.” ~ L. McWhirter, qathet resident
The name change is an act of truth and reconciliation and is well-aligned with our expressed community values. We can also look to the Community Accord (2018), and the city’s strategic
plan (2020-2022). The Community Accord outlines City of Powell River and Tla’amin Nation’s shared responsibilities of mutual recognition, collaboration and maintenance of relationship; it states that the city and the nation “deem recognition, understanding and reconciliation as the foundation of their communities’ common good.” (July 20, 2018).
The strategic plan emphasizes progressive governance and community health alongside values of innovation, inclusivity, collaboration and accountability. The name change is also a meaningful act that advances the implementation of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and the safety and dignity of all.
The name change would be fully consistent with the BC government’s endorsement of UNDRIP, its own Declaration Act (2019), and its UNDRIP Action Plan (2022).
In closing, we reiterate that we strongly oppose the option of a referendum/assent voting/community survey as a solution; it is a divisive and inappropriate mechanism to address such an important and sensitive matter.
~ The Name Matters Team