Indigenous students convince B.C. government to change name of provincial park

First Nations’ students successfully petition B.C. government for provincial park name change
WATCH: A group of B.C. indigenous students has successfully petitioned the NDP government to change the name of a provincial park on the Saanich Peninsula to reflect the area's First Nations' heritage.

Turns out you don’t need to be of voting age to make a big difference.

A group of Indigenous Grade 4 students from Vancouver Island have successfully lobbied the provincial government to rename John Dean Provincial Park.

The nine and 10-year-olds from the ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ Tribal School in Brentwood Bay started a petition and letter writing campaign a year ago after first visiting the park, which is named after a pioneer who donated part of the lands in 1921.

WATCH: (Aired Sept. 9, 2018) Cultural traditions help keep First Nations teens in school

Cultural traditions help keep First Nations teens in school
Cultural traditions help keep First Nations teens in school

The students said they were shocked to see the signs didn’t bear the ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ name, meaning “a place of refuge.” The mountain in the park was responsible for saving their ancestors, they said.

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“It’s really important for our people,” student Damaya Sam said. “I said pretty please, I put in a whole bunch of hearts [on my letter].”

Adam Olsen, the MLA for Saanich North and the Islands, introduced Bill 16 in the legislature this week after seeing the students’ letters.

READ MORE: Vancouver Park Board votes to recognize traditional names in city parks

It contains amendments to the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act, which includes adding the Indigenous ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ name to the park.

“The mountain is a very sacred place for the W̱SÁNEĆ people,” Olsen said. “It features very prominently in our flood story that goes back many generations,

As the students who inspired it watched, the bill passed second reading in the legislature Thursday.

“It’s an important name for the Saanich people, so to have it officially recognized is something very special,” Olsen said.

Environment and Climate Change Minister George Heymen said the passage is an important step on the path to reconciliation, while highlighting the determination of the young activists.

READ MORE: Vancouver Park Board votes to work with First Nations to rename Siwash Rock

“They’re never too young to speak up and talk to elected officials about what they want, and the earlier they do it, the better,” Heyman said.

Tribal School teacher Traci Sam said this is a legacy for the students, and a day they won’t soon forget.

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“I think for the children, it’s going to be just amazing,” she said. “I think they’re going to feel such a sense of pride that they had a part in that.”