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Xwayxway? Xway not?

This photograph shows aboriginal longhouses near Coal Harbour. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Stockwell Day, Federal Minister in charge of Parks, recently quashed an attempt to rename Stanley Park to the aboriginal name “Xway xway” (pronownced qwai-qway).

This is probably for the best. Stanley park is central to Vancouverites’ hearts. As the largest urban park in Canada, Stanley Park has both national and international cache for Vancouver. A name change, while certainly not ruinous to Vancouver’s tourism, would likely indenture some confusion among tourists and some resentment from locals. Indeed, most people would likely carry-on with Lord Stanley’s name, while maps and the government would follow the de jure name of “Xwayxway”.
Don’t get me wrong, I think renaming many things in British Columbia laden with colonial legacies can be helpful in highlighting aboriginal culture and history, as well as superficially remedying the previous whitewash. Haida Gwaii, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands, is one example of a much needed name change. The Haida nation calls the island home, and are the major inhabitants of the island. Leaving it named after Queen Charlotte - King George III’s wife - probably would be an example of undue post-colonial whitewash.  

Indeed, the colonial influence on Vancouver itself is extensive. Take the downtown core for example. Hornby, Howe, Nelson, Drake, Beatty, to name a few, are all named after British Admirals of the Royal Navy. Other streets, thankfully, are named after early BC political leaders (Davie, Seymour). But by-and-large, the city bears a distinct Anglo-influence. There is no overwhelming reason why name changes could not come here, since these historical figures had direct influence on BC’s history.

But, generally, renaming parks (as well as mountains, seas, rivers, streets and so on) should be a contextual matter. Stanley Park has been made what it is because in part of Lord Stanley’s influence on Canada. The land has been an adjunct to the city of Vancouver, itself named after a British naval officer - Captain George Vancouver. Changing the name would ignore a tangible and important part of Canada’s, BC’s and Vancouver’s history. Two whitewashes don’t make a right.

This does not mean that we can't accommodate an incorporation of Aboriginal vernacular within Stanley Park and other places that have Anglo-Canadian history. Why not name the location of the aboriginal village in Stanley Park ‘Xwayxway’? While some would maintain that this is still a subordination of Aboriginal history, one could still say it is better than nothing. It would promote awareness of aboriginal history, and acknowledge that the region was in fact called something before the arrival of the British and their Canadian successors.

So why not Xuayxuay and Stanley Park? Accommodation, by any language, sounds about right to me.

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