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Viewpoint: Renaming needs to be clearly thought out

Along with most Canadians, I have been saddened and horrified by the news of unmarked graves found near former residential school sites. ~ Patricia H. Martinuk

I have followed with interest the recent discussions regarding the issue of the name of our city.

Despite the fact that I was born and raised in Powell River, I had no prior knowledge of the life and actions of Israel Powell [“City renaming request discussed by Powell River councillors and mayor,” June 17]. I never heard about him in school, and most certainly was not raised to think of this person as a great man.

On a more concrete level, my passport and my birth certificate both say I was born in Powell River. Am I going to have to get new official documents if the city ceases to exist? And what about mail delivery? Are the 20,000 plus residents of Powell River all supposed to attend the post office and file a change of address card?

Where does this renaming trend stop? What about Prince Edward Island, City of Vancouver, British Columbia, Victoria, Prince Rupert, Prince George? Virtually thousands of cities, towns and even provinces are named after old white guys; are we going to completely erase all of them from our maps?

Who is going to undertake to pay the millions of dollars that will be involved in renaming Powell River? There will most assuredly be costs associated with this proposed change. Are today’s taxpayers going to be responsible for this, and if so, how is that fair?

And are we going to completely eliminate the name “Powell” from our community? What about Powell Lake? Will that cease to exist as well? What about all of our various community resources, like Powell River General Hospital? Are they also expected to change their names, and if so, who is going to pay for the costs associated with all those changes?

Along with most Canadians, I have been saddened and horrified by the news of unmarked graves found near former residential school sites. I cannot even begin to imagine the impact these revelations have had on Indigenous communities. However, the renaming of Powell River feels to me like a knee-jerk reaction. This is something that needs to be clearly thought out, and all of the ramifications need to be thoroughly explored. We should be very cautious about undertaking immediate massive change just because we feel bad.

I understand that Tla’amin Nation hegus John Hackett is not in favour of a referendum regarding the proposed name change. Apparently, he does not think it is appropriate for the “dominant culture” to make a decision regarding something that will affect virtually every person who resides in the city.

Why then is it appropriate to allow a handful of people, dominant culture or not, to make a decision that will affect every person who resides in the city?

I do have a proposal as to how this matter could be resolved, hopefully to the satisfaction of all parties. I suggest we gather all of the relevant parties together (mayor, councillors, elders from Tla’amin, hegus, et cetera) to sign a memorandum of understanding, which would state, among other things, that from this day forward, “Powell” as it refers to City of Powell River, would refer to a geographic location, and that we completely disassociate the name from Israel Powell. The actual wording of the memorandum could state in whatever terms necessary to get the point across that the city wishes to be considered independent from whatever Israel Powell stood for. This would allow us to avoid costs and difficulties associated with a formal name change, and also formally acknowledge difficulties associated with Israel Powell.

I hope my suggestion for resolving this issue is deemed worth considering. I am not trying to force my ideas on anyone. I am merely trying to find a way to help resolve what has the potential to be a difficult and divisive issue.

Patricia H. Martinuk is a Powell River resident.