Friday, August 5, 2016

What is in a Name?

I look around. I see trees, water, hills, valley, sunshine, grasses, berries, birds, and the closer I look, the more I see. How did those first settlers, early pioneers, know what to call the new places? Some of the names would have come from the First peoples, but many that we see on maps today were settler namings. As the citizen historians in "Our Prairie Heritage: Cambria 1902-1977" remind us about our settler ancestors, they were to come "to this 'empty', lonely land and give it life." I guess when you come to an "empty" land, you have to get busy naming things.

I live just outside the town limit of Fort Qu'Appelle, in the Rural Municipality of North Qu'Appelle, in a coulee above Mission Lake. Mission Lake was named for the Catholic mission in Lebret, established mid 1800's. Qu'Appelle Valley was named from the legend of Katepwa, where a young sweetheart called for her love on her deathbed, Katepwa coming from a Cree word for "calling".  The French gave us "Qu'Appelle" (who calls?) which also gave us the four "Calling Lakes", although some call Katepwa, Mission, Echo, and Pasqua the Fishing Lakes. Echo Lake, I guess, is a play on "calling" and Pasqua is named for Chief Ben Pasqua, one of the original 13 Indigenous signators of Treaty Four.

But what about Fort Qu'Appelle? What does the metaphor of the Fort tell us about who we are? I posted this question on my blog last Tuesday.

"Really enjoying your posts this summer," says Jason Weitzel, our principal at Bert Fox Community High School. "Thinking about the Fort metaphor as we have passed through and stopped in so many places that have retained their indigenous place names. In Michipicotin today, heading towards Kinosota (where I grew up and my mom, Reverend Jona Weitzel, serves her parish). Both places were HBC posts which became communities where settlers and First Nations people lived together in harmony and still do, yet so many places became "fortified".

"Thanks Jason," I say.  "I just was Treaty Walking through Fort Qu'Appelle with a young woman from here who is doing her Masters at the UofA, exploring our Treaty identity as settler descendant Canadians. We stopped at the museum where the HBC factor lived. Its making me realize that I need to study the HBC and the history of "fortification" on this land.

"In 1983 to 1985 there was a Canada Post Stamp series called 'Forts Across Canada'," says Michael, my husband. "One of the stamps was Fort Rod Hill in Victoria, BC where I grew up. I grew up in Esquimalt which is a Municipality of Victoria and Esquimalt is one of the two Naval bases in Canada. Across the bay from Fort Rodd Hill is where I grew up and used to play. There were two places Saxe Point Park and Macaulay Point Park. When I was little Sax Point Park was a proper Park but Macaulay Point Park was just an abandoned bunker and later I found out it was actually the site of Fort Macaulay. It was a cool place to hang out because it was abandoned and there were sites for large guns and bunkers in fact we called it "the Bunkers".

"I remember visiting 'the Bunkers' with you on one of my first trips with you to Victoria, before we had the girls," I say. "It was just as stark and abandoned as you've described. I think I have a picture of you in one of these bunker tunnels."

What is in a name? What can we learn about ourselves from the names we give places? When there is a Fort in the name, can the metaphor of the Fort be ignored?

"When the 'Fort' (where the Festival is held) was built, my late husband was disgusted," writes Kate, a fellow valley blogger. "Having the big TeePee on one side of the valley representing Treaty, goverance etc and then to add the 'Fort' which represents walls? barriers? I think little has changed, though Idle No More and others (like you Sheena) continue to add hope into our current day mix, I think. xoxo"

"I never thought of the divide with the Fort on one side and Tipi on the other. Powerful image," I say. "Kate, through your art and activism, you are helping us find those spaces in the middle. Here's a link to Kate's blog.

Tomorrow I will reflect on an article by Dr. Dwayne Donald that gives us much to think about as a Fort town, "Forts, Curriculum, and Indigenous M├¬tissage: Imagining Decolonization of Aboriginal-Canadian Relations in Educational Contexts".

Check it out.


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