Tensions are rising on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast over a plan to rename a number of communities with Indigenous names.
The changes would be implemented in communities in the traditional territory of the Sechelt (shíshálh) Nation, which stretches from Roberts Creek to Lang Bay.
Those changes were agreed to in the 2019 Foundation Agreement between the nation and the provincial government which pledged to “identify and recommend geographical features and locations” along with road signs with shíshálh Nation place names within five years.
But residents of those communities say they’ve never been consulted about the change.
One of the communities facing a potential change is Madeira Park, which would be renamed salalus.
“It’s a very big deal,” said Peter Robson, president of the Pender Harbour and Area Residents Association.
“No one is going to try and deny that the First Nations people were here first and they have a right to name their place, but there’s also a modern history here, and that’s the history of Madeira Park, built by the people that lived here and called it Madeira Park.”
Robson said the biggest concern in the community is that none of the non-First Nations residents were involved in the discussion, which has strictly been between the province and the nation.
He said the change would mean people needed new ID, new addresses for their businesses and could put a damper on tourism.
“Everybody knows us as Madeira Park, so change the name to salalus, people are going to wonder where the heck salalus is,” he said.
A document from the provincial government identifies about 20 locations that could see new dual-language signs.
Under the proposal, Sechelt would become ch’atlich, Roberts Creek would become xwesam, and Lang Bay would become kwekwenis.
The new signage, which could be installed within the month, would put the shíshálh name first, with the English name in parentheses.
“I don’t like to see either language with parentheses around it or one bigger than the other. You don’t get reconciliation that way,” said Leonard Lee, Area A director to the Sunshine Coast Regional District.
“People think of reconciliation as reconciling differences and making people whole again, and the only way you can do that is by engaging everybody in the planning and the implementation.”
Minister of Forests Lands and Natural Resource Operations Doug Donaldson said the process is currently in the hands of the B.C’s Geographic Name Place Office.
“They have the ability to defer a decision if more input is requested by a regional government or a local government, they have the ability to reject the proposal and the ability to endorse the proposal,” said Donaldson.
The shíshálh Nation declined to comment.
-With files from Ted Chernecki