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Student ‘warriors’ spark change in park’s name

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Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich-North and the Islands, with Danaya Sam and Jorja Horne. Students at a Brentwood Bay First Nations school who successfully petitioned to add an Indigenous name to a nearby park show that anyone can be a leader in reconciliation at any age, according to a […]


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Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich-North and the Islands, with Danaya Sam and Jorja Horne.

Students at a Brentwood Bay First Nations school who successfully petitioned to add an Indigenous name to a nearby park show that anyone can be a leader in reconciliation at any age, according to a local First Nations chief.

Chief Don Tom of Tsartlip First Nation addressed a crowd gathered at LÁU,WELNEW Tribal School to celebrate the renaming of John Dean Provincial Park to LÁU,WELNEW/John Dean Park. The Indigenous name, pronounced Tlay-will-nook, means “place of refuge” in SENCOTEN, the language of the WSÁNEC peoples.

“I want them to know that you don’t have to be an older person to be a leader,” Chief Tom said. “We are seeing a wakening of a generation who do not have to wait to be 18 to make change.”

The name change was initiated last spring by a group of students at the school after they visited the mountain on a field trip and were upset to discover it had a different name than the one they know.

“I felt really sad, because I didn’t really like that it was John Dean Provincial Park,” said Grade 4 student Danaya Sam.

Danaya said she told her friends and her teacher that they should change the name.

The students penned handwritten letters calling for the change, and started a petition that collected more than 200 signatures.

George Heyman, minister of environment and climate change strategy, said reading the children’s letters caused him to reflect on the importance of language and tradition.

“If we deny the culture and the history and the language of a place, we, in some ways, deny the existence of the people who remain and who live here,” he said. “We destroy the connection that people need to have with their elders, with their grandparents, with their parents, and ultimately with their children and their grandchildren.”

Adam Olsen, MLA for Saanich-North and the Islands and a member of Tsartlip First Nation, supported the students with their petition. Olsen explained to the provincial legislature the significance of the mountain and its name to the WSÁNEC peoples.

WSÁNEC history says that people began to forget the teachings of their creator and a great flood came as a result. As water levels rose and people prayed to survive, a mountain emerged in the distance. People climbed to the top and found safety. They decided to name the mountain LÁU,WELNEW, place of refuge.

Olsen said he often struggles to explain what reconciliation means, saying it’s an ongoing process with people and places.

“There is a deep connection that we have with the places and what they mean to us,” he said.

The decision to combine the SENCOTEN and English names, instead of replacing the previous name, was made to recognize the legacy of John Dean, Olsen said. Dean was a pioneer who donated the park’s land to the province in 1921, which helped to protect the old-growth trees on the land.

“We have a responsibility as we go forward to find positive ways to work together,” Olsen said.

Maureen Dale, president of Friends of John Dean Society, said she was pleased with the renaming decision.

She read a statement from John Dean’s descendants who couldn’t attend the ceremony, calling the new name “a shining example” of different groups working together.

Chief Tanya Jimmy of Tseycum First Nation thanked the children for their role in encouraging reconciliation.

“You’re making history today that’s usually done at the leadership level,” she said. “Your young warrior selves are doing it today for us.”

Three provincial parks were renamed last year as part of reconciliation efforts. Brooks Peninsula Park near Port Alice became Mquqwin/Brooks Peninsula Park, Boya Lake Park in northwest B.C. was renamed Ta Ch’ila Park and Roderick Haig-Brown Park near Kamloops became Tsútswecw Provincial Park.

In 2013, a movement to change the name of Mount Douglas to the SENCOTEN name PKOLS began, and unofficial signs with the Indigenous name appeared on the mountain.

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