This is the case with Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, and of course Canada itself. Only Alberta and the coastal provinces bear colonial names.
While there are good arguments in favour of redressing the colonial branding of a Nova Scotia or a New Brunswick, is there a place name more overtly and anachronistically colonial than British Columbia?
The “British” part of the province’s name is easy enough to understand; we might, however, need reminding about the origins of “Columbia.” It was the name of American John Gray’s ship, the first colonial explorer to enter the Columbia river (which he immediately named after his vessel) in 1792—the entire region, from what is now Oregon north into what is now BC, was for a time known to settlers as “Columbia.” But the name itself comes from Christopher Columbus, whose name, Latinized and mythologized, was for a long time attached to the entire “New World.”
A number of American cities and states are already moving to change the name of “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” or some variation thereof. And it makes sense: Columbus’s “discovery” of the so-called New World, and his misidentification of the locals as “Indians,” are the first moves in the violent conquest of two continents and the genocidal near-extinction of a diverse constellation of peoples and cultures. The devastation of “contact” is so extreme that climate scientists can locate its markers in ice cores that record a global dip in atmospheric carbon dioxide, in the seventeenth century, due to the reforestation of “the Americas” (the newly grown trees sucking up excess atmospheric carbon), due in turn to the deaths of literally millions of Indigenous inhabitants who were no longer alive to tend their farms. For Indigenous people, Columbus is synonymous with all that they lost in the process of colonization.
This is Yuxweluptun’s point exactly. Not only does the name British Columbia signify a history of racist colonization and genocide—it names a relationship to land that is unsustainable, and the complete opposite of Indigenous practices pre-contact. In the Vancouver Sun this May, Yuxweluptun is quoted as saying “I’m asking for a change of name because natives are the caretakers, protectors of the land of this province.” He goes on, noting that the name change “is important because it will change the idea of where we are in this country.”
The “idea of where we are” that the name British Columbia suggests is the idea Klein is trying to counteract: the spare-parts resource colony, ready to be used-up, dragged off to where it’s needed. A different name—and it’s noteworthy that Yuxweluptun is not necessarily advocating an Indigenous name, just a non-colonial one—might tell a different story about the nature of where it is that we live, and how we might live there. “Beautiful British Columbia” it certainly is—but not because of its name: the beauty is all in the trees, rivers, mountains, valleys, coastlines, islands, animals, and peoples. Another name might help us better see that beauty, and better protect it.
This is an era of “reconciliation,” or so we are told;
Rename British Columbia · thewalrus.ca (external - login to view)