Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said Sunday’s renaming of a Victoria street was symbolically important but also signalled that other issues will play a more important role in the municipality’s continuing efforts toward reconciliation with local First Nations.
“Today’s ceremony was really important for the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, but before we move to (future) name changes, we want to work on other things that are going to improve the quality of life in their communities and in our community.”
Such issues include on and off-reserve housing, language revitalization and social services like daycare.
‘There is nothing else in the works right now (regarding name changes) and we shouldn’t be too distracted by name changing,” she said earlier.
She made those comments after the end of a 90-minute-long ceremony marking the renaming of Trutch Street to Su’it Street, which translates as truth in the Lekwungan language.
Crews installed three new signs along the 180-metre-long road at its intersections with Fairfield Road, Richardson Street and Collinson Street. Crews had installed signs at the first two intersections earlier with the third sign unveiled Sunday afternoon during a ceremony in front of some 200 people, including street residents, as well as members of the respective councils from the City of Victoria as well as Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations. A witness ceremony and an Indigenous blessing by members of the Shaker Faith were also part of the ceremony.
The street previously bore the name of British Columbia’s first lieutenant governor, who in his previous role as chief commissioner of lands and works, had drastically reduced the size of reserves previously assigned to local First Nations. He also denied the very existence of Aboriginal title, a legal legacy that would affect relations between First Nations and non-First Nations for decades well into the 20th century. Trutch also held repugnant personal views about First Nations.
Margaret Charlie, a member of the Songhees First Nation council, welcomed the ceremony marking the name change. “I think it’s amazing,” she said. “We were very close to losing our Lekwungan language and it’s just in the process of being revitalized. I think it is going to be huge for our kids, our younger generations, our future leaders to see a street named truth.”
The change was spurred by a petition from University of Victoria students and Songhees First Nation Chief Ron Sam used the occasion to thank them.
Sam said the students showed courage. “We all get to stand here as part of this, but we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the students at UVic,” he said.
Jade Baired, who had earlier worked with Sicily Fox, Ashley Yaredic and Rachel Dufort on pushing for the name change, said the quartet is really proud of their work, but also thanked the community at large for the support. “It’s about decolonization (and) a shift in values,” said Baired.
Helps said the City of Victoria will continue its efforts toward reconciliation in continuing a shift in values that started five years ago. “We are working closely with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations and taking our lead and direction from them,” she said, pointing to the reconciliation contribution fund. “That’s a way Victorians can make a meaningful contribution.”
Other efforts include the municipality’s support for the Songhees’ treaty negotiations, she said. “We’ve got a lot more work to do to essentially figure out a way to decolonize our own government processes so that we can work in a meaningful government-t0-government way with Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.”
That process of decolonization, she said, could take decades.
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