The name is outdated, but is there a better choice?

Image via Wikimedia
Image via Wikimedia

Un-British Columbia

By Greg Waldock, Staff Writer

Renaming land after yourself is a pretty strong hallmark of imperialism. Renaming land after yourself and a violent conqueror is something else. That’s exactly what British Columbia is; it is named for Britain and the Columbia River, which is named for Christopher Columbus, the guy who accidentally and intentionally wiped out countless cultures.

However, it’s been a long time since 1858, when the name was first chosen and it became a colony. We, as a nation and as a province, are more aware of the catastrophic effects colonialism had on the First Nations peoples of BC, and only recently we’ve started apologized for the residential schools. Haida Gwaii had its name changed from Queen Charlotte Islands in 2010, following a series of name-changes around Canada. Should British Columbia follow suit, and choose a more appropriate indigenous name?

There’s a huge problem here. There is no appropriate indigenous name. British Columbia is one of the most linguistically diverse places on the planet, with dozens of mutually unintelligible languages spoken by tribes who possibly have millennia of war between them. Deciding that only one of these languages should represent all these diverse cultures is an even worse form of disrespect. On top of this, British Columbia has mostly artificial boundaries, and didn’t exist as a concept before colonization was well under way in the area. There aren’t any indigenous words for British Columbia. The closest we can get is “The Land” or something similar. So as much as it sounds like the most sensitive and respectful idea, it just wouldn’t work.

We’re pretty much restricted to a name that refers to the physical makeup of the province, then. A harmless name that reflects the area, and wouldn’t require too much changing of signage. That name would have to follow categories; not tied to a single region, descriptive, snappy. My vote is the dorkiest, most scientifically accurate option: Boreal Cascadia. The acronym wouldn’t even have to change. It suits our little section of Canada in that it’s bland and flavourless, but inoffensive, and kind of dramatic. It also has the advantage of not being named after a conquering nation and a violent explorer from another conquering nation who never even dreamed of a West Coast.

If it really is our moral responsibility to have a better provincial name, then Boreal Cascadia is probably as good as we’re going to get.