Two northern New Brunswick places whose names included a racial slur will have new names starting in January, the province announced Thursday.
At least seven communities or geographical features across the province bear names that include a racist and misogynistic term used against Indigenous women.
But now, two of those names will be changed following consultation with Mi’kmaw and Wolastoqey leaders and residents of the northern New Brunswick community, said Tourism, Heritage and Culture Minister Tammy Scott-Wallace.
The name of the community, about 27 kilometres west of Campbellton, will be Evergreen, and an adjacent mountain, will be named Meto’mqwijuig Mountain. A surrounding protected natural area will also be Meto’mqwijuig.
Wallace said Meto’mqwijuig — pronounced Meh-tum-ka-jig — was the original Mi’kmaw name for the mountain, and according to her, means “to hear something that is flowing” or “a mountain stream nearby.”
“First Nations communities were all consulted,” Scott-Wallace said in an interview. “We asked for their participation and their suggestions. So, absolutely, everyone had an opportunity to weigh in.
“We had a web survey as well that allowed people to make recommendations and get their thoughts, so we’re really happy with what we’ve come to. There’s been a lot of work that’s gone into it for sure.”
The changes are the first steps the province has taken to change racist place names, something Wolastoqey and Mi’kmaw leaders have been asking the government to do for years.
A push to do so also came from Manju Varma, who made it one of 86 recommendations in a report written last year when she was serving as commissioner on systemic racism.
Changes should go beyond racist names: Mi’kmaw group
The name changes announced Thursday are “an extremely important part of reconciliation,” said Raven Boyer, spokesperson for Mi’gmawe’l Tplu’taqnn Inc., which represents the province’s Mi’kmaw communities.
But MTI has emphasized to the province that changing a few racist place names is not enough, Boyer said.
“The Province must initiate a process to restore Indigenous place names across our territory,” she said in an email.
“MTI remains prepared to undertake the Indigenous knowledge research necessary to support such an effort.”
Scott-Wallace said it’s “possible” her government will go beyond changing racist place names.
“But I really can’t answer,” she said, adding her focus right now is on changing the place names that contain racial slurs or derogatory terms.
Wolastoqey leaders have long called on the province to honour the traditional name of the St. John River, by renaming it the Wolastoq.
On Thursday, the Wolastoqey Nation in New Brunswick repeated that call.
“We hope the province’s work to restore original Indigenous place names will soon extend to Wolastoq — the namesake of our people, the Wolastoqiyik, and the proper and original name of the river that runs through our nation,” executive director Darrah Beaver said in an email.
“This has long been a request of our nation and many non-Indigenous allies. It would be a sincerely welcomed gesture that is consistent with the sentiments expressed by the minister and her department today.”