If BC wants to start renaming areas with Indigenous names, they should coordinate with internet companies
By Craig Allan, Business Manager
There has been a lot of talk this year about how to reconcile with Indigenous people in regards to residential schools, and giving them more recognition as the original curators of Canadian lands. One way has been the renaming, or co-naming of areas to highlight Indigenous names.
Two months ago, the Riverview Hospital Lands in Coquitlam was renamed səmiq̓wəʔelə/Riverview Lands. This is part of an effort by regional governments to reflect the presence and historic significance of First Nations groups across the lower mainland. Alongside səmiq̓wəʔelə, (which means “Place of the Great Blue Heron”), Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza, has been renamed šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl’a7shn, and the north end of the Vancouver Art Gallery, is now šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ.
These name changes would be a great way to acknowledge the First Nations people and their history with the land. I say “would” because no matter what name they use, people are still likely going to call the areas by their more common and easier to read western names.
This reason stems from pronunciation errors and from spelling. This can be remedied by continually practicing the saying the names and reviewing pronunciation boards at the site, but the spelling issue is a more difficult problem.
In that first paragraph, I had to look up what those names were, and direct copy them into this article because I don’t know how to write those names. How do I type a small “W” with space underneath? Is there even a backwards question mark function? I don’t know, but I am certainly not going to spend time pressing Ctrl+Shift and mashing every key until I find where each letter is. Unfortunately, I don’t have the time, or the patience, for that.
So, how does this problem get fixed? Connecting lands with an Indigenous identity is a good idea, but if it is going to be done it has to be better coordinated with internet companies and social media. Governments and First Nations groups should coordinate re-naming efforts with Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and any other company that maintain a large computer, internet, and/or social media presence. Email services like Microsoft Outlook and Gmail already have predictive text functions and spell checks. Since that technology exists, then surely there must be a way to coordinate that with Indigenous names. Maybe creating a function that knows when in a certain region if names like “Riverview” or “Queen Elizabeth Theatre Plaza” are typed, a predictive function can recommend their First Nations names; this can also be used for Microsoft Word and other functions. They could even get the websites to have a function that will help pronounce/read-aloud the name if someone is attempting to use it.
The value of this is to make it easier for everyone to use, and better associate, these places with their original First Nations names. The reason why we do land acknowledgements is to ingrain the presence of these names, culture, and groups so that in future generations the use of these names is as common as saying “Burnaby” or “Surrey.” Making it easier to say and type these names will go a long way to achieving that goal.