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Geographical Names Board of Canada seeks Inuit, Métis advisors


The federal body responsible that oversees Canada’s place naming needs more Inuit and Métis representation.

Established in 1897, the Geographical Names Board of Canada coordinates the naming of places and features. For example, the board develops policies that set out how certain names or terminology should be used.

More recently, the board has acknowledged that recognizing Indigenous place names “contributes to preserving and revitalizing Indigenous cultures, histories and languages and plays a vital role toward advancing reconciliation,” and forms part of its work.

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Ultimately, the final say on place names ordinarily (but not always) rests with provinces and territories. The Northwest Territories has, according to the board, held responsibility for names in the territory since 1984.

However, the board and its 29 members – representatives from every province and territory, plus various federal agencies – still hold some sway.

The board appoints three Indigenous advisors who, as full voting members, are asked to take part in working groups on naming practices, advise on culturally appropriate naming and matters of language, and help develop guidelines related to Indigenous place names.

While a First Nations advisor – Kamloops-based Rob Houle of Swan River First Nation – was appointed earlier this month, the positions for Inuit and Métis advisors remain vacant.

“The Geographical Names Board of Canada welcomes nominations for Inuit and Métis advisors,” the board said as it announced Houle’s appointment.

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Houle said in the same news release: “Now is an opportune time for us to redefine who we are as a nation, and recapturing Indigenous names plays a huge role in that.

“By reconnecting and reminding each other of the true history of this land, we will grow closer not only as a people but also as a country. Only then will we be fully embracing the journey to reconciliation and respecting our shared heritage.”

In the Northwest Territories – represented on the board by Glen MacKay, the territorial archaeologist – recognition of Indigenous place names has been a gradual process. Recent examples include Sambaa K’e, formerly Trout Lake, which changed its name after Sambaa K’e Dene Band members voted to do so in 2016.

Some residents argue much work remains.

Great Slave Lake has in the past been identified as a prominent example of a name that could change. The name has its origins in a Cree term for the Dene people of the area, while the Indigenous peoples who actually live beside the lake use other names for it.

Lake names like Tucho and Tu Nedhé have found their way into the names of local entities – like the lake’s Tucho Fishers’ Cooperative or the eastern shore’s Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh electoral district – but are rarely formally used for the lake itself.

Meanwhile, in Nunavut this week, the CBC reported on calls from a women’s advocacy group to rename a group of islands east of Iqaluit whose current name contains an Indigenous slur.

The Geographical Names Board of Canada can be contacted by email. A list of its current members is available online.

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