Georgia Straight/ Salish Sea

No Party Affiliation
Katherine Walker –

In one regard, Shakespeare got it right when he wrote "What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet."
Renaming the Georgia Strait the Salish Sea, as proposed by B.C. Premier Gordon C ampbell earlier in March, won't make much of a difference to the actual waters. Will there be fewer boats or ferries riding its waves? Will more shellfish be produced? Will the water be any less wet?
The new name was actually proposed by Chemainus First N ation representative George Harris at an aboriginal summit held in Vancouver. The premier has since publicly supported the name change, which recognizes the Coast Salish people, who have lived along the shores of the Georgia Strait for thousands of years.
So far, the B.C. arm of the Monarchist League of Canada is opposed to the name change. That comes as no big surprise, given their allegiance to everything royal and British. Others support the original name because they claim Captain George Vancouver righ tfully "discovered" the strait, and as such deserved the right to bestow its current moniker in honour of King George III.
But with the multitude of British and royal and European names that already exist, isn't adding one more name to honour the original inhabitants of North America, a.k.a. Turtle Island (the aboriginal name), long overdue?
In fact, it's accepted fact that nothing in North America was "discovered" by non-aboriginal peoples. The explorers and the names they gave that dot our landscape obs cure the truth that they were often led to these places by aboriginal guides. Many would not have even survived to name anything if it weren't for aboriginal people. Why would we want to continue to honour a false concept of "discovery?"
Other critics say the name change would be pricey, and in the end, would be a meaningless symbolic gesture orchestrated by the provincial government to deflect attention from more pressing aboriginal issues.
Name and culture
But as the tragic events that unfold in Shake speare's Romeo and Juliet demonstrate a name is not merely a symbol. With a name, you inherit a history, a culture, a language and an identity.
One name laden with meaning is the common description of aboriginal people: Indians. Once again, the name gam e started with the supposed "discovery" of aboriginal people by Europeans. Some explorer, who will remain nameless, thought North America was the East Indies, and therefore the people he saw here were "Indians."
Although he soon discovered it wasn't tando ori masala cooking over those campfires, the name "Indian" stuck. This misnomer ended up the label for a group of nations that spanned a continent, which had very different cultures and languages.
The imposition of this name on aboriginal people showed a profound lack of respect for the original inhabitants of North America. This lack of respect later manifested itself in colonizing legislation and policy. "Indians" were systematically disempowered, and despite wide differences in the beginning, eventuall y came to share a number of common characteristics, such as chronic health problems, poverty, incarceration and such. A name is not just a name.
Reclaiming the name
A large part of aboriginal people's effort to reclaim our strength, health and culture has gone hand in hand with reclaiming our names. The word "Indian" is now only used in a legal context to describe aboriginal people who belong to an Indian Band. As a group, most aboriginal people prefer native, aboriginal and indigenous.
Yet, when this 20 th century renaming of aboriginal people began, there were many critics, even among aboriginal people. For instance, when the idea of "First Nations" was first trotted out, a lot of people scoffed at the notion of "Indians" representing "nations."
That name was first introduced in the 1980s as a response to another myth: that the two "founding nations" of Canada are the French and English. Aboriginal people wanted to be recognized as a third founding nation. The National Indian Brotherhood kicked things off when it changed its name to the Assembly of First Nations in 1982.
The acceptable names for subgroups of aboriginal people now are Métis, Inuit and First Nations. Can you remember a time when it was common to refer to the Métis, Inuit and First Nations as half-breeds, Eskimos and Indians? Over the years, those names have become stereotype-laden insults.
The fact that they are not acceptable terms anymore shows how far aboriginal people have come, now functioning as equal members of Canadian society. Clear ly these were not just names; they were also indicators of a person's status and value.
Who knows, maybe in 10 years, we'll be looking back and wondering why the Georgia Strait wasn't renamed soone r
Hell of an idea...... maybe BC's name should be changed?....... The Queen Charlottes?.... Vancouver Island? I keep hearing "Turtle Island"...maybe Canada should be changed to North Turtle Island.
If they want to call it something to reflect the First Nations heritage, then use a name that is actually Coast Salish - something that the Coast Salish historically called it. But The Salish Sea is just lame. Like in Greenland, they used Greenlandic words and not their Danish analogs.
Friend of mine was researching Haida Gwaii/The Queen Charlottes a looong time ago and he discovered that they had another name for it. It was long and started with an "X", and even he has lost his notes and cannot remember that actual name, however it meant "Islands at the End of the World". That rules. Haida Gwaii always sound too sleek, snappy and touristy to me.

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