The chosen new name means ‘good relationships’ in Cree
Saskatoon city council voted unanimously in favour of renaming a road formerly named after Canada’s first prime minister. At Wednesday’s city council meeting, administration recommended that council rename John A. Macdonald Road to miyo-wâhkôhtowin Road.
Miyo-wâhkôhtowin means “good relationships” in Cree.
Roland Duquette, an Elder and residential school survivor, spoke at the meeting in favour of the new name. “Miyo-wâhkôhtowin, boy, that’s just a beautiful sounding name, miyo-wâhkôhtowin,” Duquette said.
“You say that enough times, you feel it in your heart, your soul [and] your spirit.”
Duquette said the word is revered because it encompasses everything, including land and people.
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The process to rename the road began in June 2021. The final step for the name change to be complete is for council to make a bylaw change official. They are expected to do so in September.
In April 2021, Regina city council voted to move a statue of Sir John A. Macdonald out of Regina’s Victoria Park. Other cities have made similar moves, with Montreal recently choosing not to put a toppled statue of the former prime minister back on its downtown pedestal and Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway in Ottawa being renamed earlier this year.
Some residents opposed
Hundreds of letters were sent to council ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, some being a sign-and-send template, according to Mayor Charlie Clark.
They present divided opinions on whether the city should maintain the name — to remember Macdonald’s key role in Canada’s history — or remove it due to its association with the genocide of Indigenous peoples and creation of Indian residential schools.
Marjaleena Repo spoke against the name change at council. She said residents had no choice in picking a new name, and that the new name is difficult to pronounce and spell. “The problem is that its name, meaning a good relationship, is a lie because the very opposite has happened. The process of renaming has been undemocratic to the core from beginning to end,” said Repo.
Miyo-wâhkôhtowin is pronounced “mee-yo-wuh-KOH-toh-win.”
On Tuesday, at the opening of a new fire station, Clark said he’s aware some residents wanted a chance to vote on the name. “We take that very seriously in figuring out the best way to work with residents and survivors and make some of these changes,” Clark said. “It is important for us to recognize and understand the impact of the residential school system on people who are alive in our community today.”
Saskatoon Morning 13:03
Tough decisions on the horizon for Saskatoon councillors regarding homelessness, budget shortfalls.
Guest host Theresa Kliem talks with Mayor Charlie Clark about homelessness, re-naming John A Macdonald road., and budget talks as the city works to reduce a huge potential tax hike for next year.
Ward 3 Coun. David Kirton said people told him the road renaming would be erasing history, but Kirton disputed this. “I would say that in fact, Canadian history had already been erased for decades,” said Kirton. “In fact, it is shameful that hardly any Canadians knew about the Indian residential school system until the early 1990s”
Signs already printed
Before Wednesday’s meeting, Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill posted a photo to X, formerly known as Twitter, of multiple miyo-wâhkôhtowin Road signs. “I guess a council decision on what the new name of John A McDonald Rd is going to be is not required before we occur the costs to print the new signs,” said Hill in his post.
Jay Magus, the director of transportation, said signs were made on Aug. 22 and 23.
“This way, if council approved the name, the signs would be ready for installation as soon as possible,” said Magus in an email. “In the event council did not approve the change, the sign materials could be reused and not wasted.”
Council also voted in favour of a motion from Coun. Hill to have city administration come back with a report to ensure residents don’t pay anything for changing their addresses.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Liam O’Connor, Reporter
Liam O’Connor is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan based in Saskatoon. O’Connor graduated from the University of Regina journalism school. He covers general news for CBC. You can reach him at email@example.com.