Simpson said his department was currently working on making more than 400 Indigenous names official for geographic features across the NWT.
“There is a lot of work happening on this front right now,” he said.
A prince and two Mackenzies
Johnson questioned whether the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (named for Prince Charles), the Mackenzie River (named for Scottish explorer Alexander Mackenzie) and the Mackenzie Mountains (honouring Canada’s second prime minister, Alexander Mackenzie) would also be renamed.
Johnson said he doesn’t believe Prince Charles – who he called “old Chucky boy” – has a strong connection to the North. The Prince of Wales has twice visited the museum, once in 1979 when it first opened and earlier this month during a royal tour to commemorate the Queen’s platinum jubilee.
Johnson said explorer Mackenzie’s claim to the Mackenzie River, meanwhile, was travelling for three months until he realized it did not lead to the Pacific Ocean, then returning home.
“Alexander Mackenzie did some good cartography work but honestly, in the realm of explorers, he does not deserve the great Dehcho river,” Johnson said.
The former prime minister Mackenzie, Johnson continued, was known for implementing the Indian Act and his efforts to assimilate Indigenous people. Johnson pointed out the Mackenzie Mountains were not part of Canada when Mackenzie was in office and there is no evidence he ever stepped foot there.
“I don’t believe that in this day and age we have any reason to honour him by naming the beautiful Mackenzie mountains after him,” he said.
Simpson said any changes to the name of the museum in Yellowknife would have to be tied to changes to the building, like retrofits or renovations. Earlier this year, the minister said the museum is ageing and needs a major overhaul.
“I foresee that in the not-too-distant future we’ll likely be having this conversation about the name, once these other elements start rolling,” he said.
The Mackenzie River, Simpson said, has multiple official names, including five Indigenous names. Alongside Dehcho – meaning big river in Dene Zhatıé – the river is known as Kuukpak in Inuvialuktun, Nagwichoonjik in Gwich’in, Deho in Sahtúot’ı̨nę Yatı, and Grande Rivière in Michif.
As for the Mackenzie Mountains, Simpson said the territory had not received a request to change the name.
“We can’t do everything at once, so we are not in the process of actively pursuing community support for changing names, because it has to come from the community,” he said.