After years of discussions and a promise to change the name of Amherst Street, the City of Montreal officially has chosen a new moniker in honour Indigenous Peoples.
Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante unveiled the new name, Atateken Street, on Friday, saying it means “brothers and sisters” in the Mohawk language. She described the name change as a step toward reconciliation between the city and Indigenous Peoples.
“I think the word Atateken is perfect because it brings together the fundamental values of Montreal: reconciliation, inclusion and sharing,” she said on National Indigenous People Day. “It represents the spirit of our very beautiful city.”
The street was long named after British general Jeffrey Amherst, who led the capitulation of Montreal in September 1760. He is accused of using blankets he knew were contaminated with smallpox to quell Indigenous rebellions.
“Today we are removing General Jeffery Amherst from our past _ we’re erasing that part of our past, both your past and ours — but we won’t forget,” said Ghislain Picard, head of the Assembly of First Nations of Quebec and Labrador.
“Now that Amherst Street has a new name, the spirit of our peoples, the spirit of our ancestors can now rest in peace.”
It was former mayor Denis Coderre who announced the city’s plan to change the name in 2017. The Plante administration then formed a committee in fall 2018 to find a new, suitable name for the downtown street.
For Kanesatake Grand Chief Serge Simon, the new name is a step in the right direction. He says it represents a change of mindset in the city and signifies there is an acceptance of Indigenous people and communities.
“There is the Canadian people, there is the Quebec people but we’ve always forgotten there is the First Nations people,” he said. “This may be symbolic but I think it has more meaning that people will give it for now.”
The new name marks an important moment for Montreal in its entirety, according to Plante.
“It reminds us to work together to remember the past but like I said earlier to be in the present and write the future,” she said.
The name will become official at the end of the summer.
—With files from Global News’ Phil Carpenter and the Canadian Press