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Language and Culture (13-17)

Fort William First Nation explores language reclamation within the community

June 29, 2023

Print Friendly    |     Contact the EditorPosted on June 29, 2023 In AnishinabekNews

Fort William Chief Michele Solomon, who was sworn in as chief during a swearing-in ceremony on Anemki Wajiw on June 11, plans to look into changing some place names and the name of the community.

NationTalk: FORT WILLIAM FIRST NATION — Fort William Chief Michele Solomon and a group of councillors recently spoke about looking into changing some place names and the name of the community after their swearing-in ceremony on June 11.

“As you know in most communities across Canada, communities are reclaiming Indigenous names or names of origin,” Solomon says. “We have some work to do at Fort William First Nation to do some research and make sure there’s an appropriate name for our community, particularly this mountain which has largely become to be known as Anemki Wajiw, which to me is perfectly fine just as that. I don’t think it should be Mt. McKay.”

Solomon says S***w Bay is another name that needs to be changed. “For that one, we’ll need to do some research and some work to find out the proper origins of the name for the community,” Solomon says. “It’s derogatory — [it] was a word that was used to put our women down and to shame them and to speak badly about them.”

Solomon says the community needs to have an opportunity to have input into whether to change or keep its community name. “I personally don’t believe that Fort William First Nation is the name that represents us in the best way,” Solomon says. “It’s a time of reclaiming, we’re at a time in history, if you will, of reclaiming so reclaiming a name that represents our nation; our people is what we need to do and will do.”

Fort William Councillor Desiree Morriseau-Shields says it is important that they do community consultation before moving ahead with any name changes.

“The official name of Mt. McKay was not something that Fort William First Nation had a say in originally and I think it’s important that we bring back some of our language and make it officially Anemki Wajiw,” Morriseau-Shields says. “Language resurgence reclamation is everything, it speaks to our identity and who we are as people and to have a name that’s selected by us that is in the language and speaks to who we are as a nation, it’s imperative we do that.”

Fort William Councillor Bess Legarde says the place names were definitely in Anishinaabemowin before colonization.

“I think it is necessary to go back to our original names of the land and what our people actually called it,” Legarde says. “We call [the mountain] Anemki Wajiw and I would love to see our names go back to what they’re actually named. With S***w Bay being that name, it’s derogatory to our people. I hope that our people do change it and that we can come to some names and then have potentially a vote or something to have it officially changed, and then also for the government to recognize that.”

Fort William Councillor Jacob McKay says he fully supports the changes to the names, noting that he grew up outside of Owen Sound and saw the changes that were made at two local First Nations. “Both those First Nations have reclaimed their traditional names, even on their stop signs and everything you see the Anishinabek lettering,” McKay says. “It helps for our youth to reclaim our identity. I think it’s long overdue.”

Fort William Councillor Kyle MacLaurin says it is time to have their own names. “We’ve had our own names for all the areas around here and it’s time that we start reclaiming those names back,” he says. “These were names that were imposed upon us and got used for generations now but they weren’t ours originally. There’s a strong push, especially from the youth, that lets get back to who we are, and we start that with the language and bringing the names back.”

MacLaurin says the mountain was called Mt. McKay when he was younger. “But as I got older, I’ve always heard Anemki Wajiw so that’s probably a name that will stick around, but we’ll have to see,” MacLaurin says. “I think the youth need a big say in that.”

By Rick Garrick