Saint Mary’s First Nation Chief criticizes lack of consultation on new names for local entities

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WATCH: Next year dozens of New Brunswick communities will be in need of new names, Suzanne Lapointe reports – May 27, 2022

When the provincial government unveiled the list of proposed names for the new local entities created by local government reforms on Wednesday, the new names on the list were only in English and French.

The only names on the list of Wolastoqiyik and Miꞌkmaq origin were names of previously-established entities, like Miramichi.

Chief Allan Polchies Jr. of Saint Mary’s First Nation said this was very disappointing.

In a statement sent to Global News on Thursday, he said, “It comes as no surprise to me and other chiefs that this provincial government would miss an opportunity to adopt Indigenous place names.

“I am not aware of any serious consultation. In fact, we have been left with the impression that true consultation with First Nations would have taken too much time.”

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Local government and local governance reform minister Daniel Allain referred to the pace of the sweeping reforms as “pedal to the metal” at the press conference on Wednesday.

Historian Maurice Basque, who served as a toponymy adviser for the renaming project along with Ken Harding, told Global News at that time that names of First Nations origins were only considered if they were already names of incorporated entities.

Basque said that out of respect, more consultation would be needed with First Nations groups before adopting new Indigenous names.

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Polchies Jr. said he is only aware of “minor discussions on changing derogatory place names.”

In an interview on Friday, Premier Blaine Higgs said he was concerned to hear Polchies Jr.’s comments.

“It was purposely understood right from the beginning of the process that we did not have the ability to incorporate First Nations communities into this process,” he said, explaining that the new names were the result of public consultations in the communities they would be applied to.

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Polchies Jr. said that he and other chiefs “continue to pursue the changing of place names to represent the true history of this province. Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because Indigenous languages are beautiful and hold a deeper meaning and history to this land,” he said, citing the ongoing project to rename the Saint John River to Wolastoq.

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The Department of Local Government and Local Governance reform declined to comment on Friday, as they felt Premier Higgs’ comments were sufficient.

Higgs added that there will be a process in place in 2024 that will allow communities to revisit name changes.

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