A Central Saanich councillor says he is excited to start the public dialogue on plans that would lead to the “gradual incorporation of traditional WSANEC names for key collector and arterial roads” within the District of Central Saanich.
“Reconciliation is a journey not a destination and this is the first of many steps in working with our Tsartlip and Tsawout First Nation neighbours,” said Coun. Niall Paltiel, whose notice of motion, if approved on Jan. 25, would direct staff to work with the WSANEC leadership council to develop a program toward that end.
The notice of motion also directs staff in Central Saanich to connect with the neighbouring municipalities of Saanich and North Saanich to consider their inclusion or interest in the project, as several key collector and arterial roads like West Saanich Road run through all three communities.
Signs bearing the WSANEC language would not replace, but join existing names, said Paltiel in pointing to efforts in other municipalities and regional districts in British Columbia (such as Tofino and Cowichan Valley) where streets signs incorporating local First Nation languages have appeared.
Paltiel added that this discussion around incorporating the WSANEC language represents a genuine outreach to local First Nations that may expand to other areas of significance to First Nations in the municipality such as parks as part of the municipality’s broader commitment toward reconciliation. “It’s not meant to be tokenistic,” he said.
Paltiel said he has already had discussion with politicians representing local First Nations including the leadership of Tsartlip and Tsawout First Nations with the dialogue to continue.
Paltiel also sees benefits for local non-Indigenous and Indigenous populations-at-large. For the former, this project marks an opportunity to learn more about local Indigenous history. For the latter, “substantial evidence” shows the educational and cultural benefits of recognizing traditional histories and language, he said.
Should council approve the notice of motion, staff would start looking into practical issues, such as traffic safety, sign designs and costs, said Paltiel, noting that any changes won’t happen overnight against the backdrop of other projects and COVID-19.
But the work itself can also send a signal, he said. “It shows that we (non-Indigenous and Indigenous populations) can work together,” he said.
Toponymy (the study of place names) has generated growing interest in recent years, with several voices calling for a greater recognition of Aboriginal place names. Both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission as well as the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples have either implicitly or explicitly called for a greater recognition of Aboriginal place names prior to European colonization.
Central Saanich late last year reached out to Tsawout First Nation to weigh in on the naming of a new park.
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