‘Mic Mac’ street names called colonial, outdated as HRM council asks for report

The Mic Mac Mall is seen in Dartmouth, N.S. on Tuesday, March 3, 2015.
The Mic Mac Mall is seen in Dartmouth, N.S. on Tuesday, March 3, 2015. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

Halifax regional council has voted to request a staff report on renaming several streets and locations that contain the anglicized word “Mic Mac.”

Coun. Sam Austin, representing Dartmouth Centre, brought this to council on Tuesday to build on the work of the Task Force on the Commemoration of Edward Cornwallis and the Recognition and Commemoration of Indigenous History.

The council accepted the recommendations of the task force in July.

The document’s recommendation 14 calls for “opportunities be explored for additional usage of the Mi’kmaw language in naming and signage, beginning with currently anglicized Mi’kmaw names being adjusted back to the Mi’kmaw original, such as Chebucto Road to K’jipuktuk Road.”

Austin said this discussion comes up in Dartmouth every couple of years and was surprised to see that “Mic Mac” wasn’t mentioned.

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“Even though they weren’t specifically mentioned, this is clearly the sort of thing the task force is contemplating,” he said.

“From what I understand, ‘Mic Mac’ is the anglicized version of Mi’kmaw, and from what I understand it’s not necessarily a slur, but it’s not the proper pronunciation of the name… It’s colonial and just very outdated.”

Austin said out of respect it is incumbent to use the proper name Mi’kmaw.

He said Tuesday morning he received an email from a constituent about anglicizing European capitals and told council that is not the same as anglicizing Indigenous terms.

“We have major unfinished business with our First Nations.”

“For truth and reconciliation to mean anything, as a bare minimum, we should be using the right names.”

Austin said the source of many locations being named “Mic Mac” in Dartmouth is what is called Mic Mac Lake. The lake didn’t get its name until the 1920s when it was selected in a contest, Austin said.

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“The article in the newspaper of the day said because of the lake’s historical importance as a canoe route across the province.”

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Austin says he believes the intention behind this name was not to honour the Mi’kmaq.

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“That was an error with the Canadian government; we weren’t doing any honouring, we were in full assimilation mode when it came to First Nations cultures across the country.”

The name, he said, seems to come from “a romantic attachment” to what was considered as historical.

Austin points out the Mic Mac Boulevard area is significant to the Black community in Halifax that’s faced marginalization and environmental racism.

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“There could be an opportunity to introduce some commemoration of that.”

Austin says that council now has an opportunity to meaningfully commemorate the Mi’kmaq.

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One option, he said, is to correct the spelling of Mi’kmaw.

“Or there’s possibly a chance to really honour the First Nations by bringing back some of the names that they actually use to describe these places in our municipality.”

Councilor Shawn Cleary says there’s a lot of education that goes hand-in-hand with renaming a place.

“People are always talking about erasing history when its statues, place names, team mascots,” Cleary said.

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“You cannot change history by changing a street name or kicking down a statue. In fact, what we’re doing is helping people understand history.”

He said he hopes this motion encourages dialogue with members of the Cornwallis task force, and Indigenous residents in Halifax.

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Waye Mason added to the discussion that the Peace and Friendship Park still has not had its new name officiated and pleaded with council to move forward with that as well in the near future.

Renaming the park was one of the recommendations of the task force.

The park was formerly known as Cornwallis Park and held the statue of colonizer Edward Cornwallis. The statue was removed in 2018 after ongoing efforts by the Mi’kmaq and allies.

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At council Tuesday, newly elect Coun. Patty Cuttell said she is not only interested in replacing the name “Mic Mac,” but in moving forward with a new way of naming new spaces in the city, and creating new spaces.

She hopes to have spaces that reflect “an authentic culture of the Mi’kmaq, their history, their knowledge and understanding of this place and of this land.”

The motion to request a staff report on renaming streets with the word “Mic Mac” passed unanimously.

Global News has reached out to the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre and will update this article with comments.

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