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Sywash Ridge

The very first time I visited Vancouver in 2014, I remember excitedly participating in one of those quintessential tourist activities: biking the Stanley Park Seawall. It was a late afternoon in September, and I acutely remember how beautiful the day was. As I turned a corner and started heading directly into the warm light of the setting sun, I saw it for the first time: Siwash Rock. I applied my brakes, climbed off my bike, and captured photographs of this unusual rocky spire protruding from the water, with a determined little tree blossoming from the top.

A few years after I saw Siwash Rock for the first time, I began to hear a conversation happening around the meaning of the name and a desire to change it. I discovered that the word Siwash was rooted in the Chinook word originating in the French “sauvage”, meaning savage. This word has derogatory connotations towards the First People, and so it was a step in the right direction when the Vancouver Parks Board began working with the Nations of Squamish, Musqueam, and Tsleil-Waututh to change the name.

This story often came to mind when I was out walking in my Lantzville neighborhood along one of our local roads, Sywash Ridge. When I inquired about feelings around the road name with my friend Qaqayelulwut Amanda Bob from Snaw-Naw-As First Nation, there was discomfort expressed around the language. She explained to me that, “names are so important – they provide an opportunity to illustrate the Snaw-Naw-As Peoples connection to the land, which in turn help us understand how to be good stewards. Our Indian names often come FROM the land to prove our connection TO the land. Qaqayelulwut is my Indian name, and any elder would know that I come from comieakn (stone church). Names are handed down for generations.”

Understanding the weighty importance carried in a name, I was filled with delight to learn that last week at our local Council Meeting, a motion was put forward to rename Sywash Ridge. Following the motion, Mayor Mark Swain spoke passionately that it was: “atrocious that this name continues to be posted as a street sign in Lantzville. We are trying to move forward in our relationship with Snaw-Naw-As as a community, and this is one of those steps that will help in building that relationship.”

Actions such as these represent positive movement forward in the pursuit of reconciliation. It is important to be curious about the names of places and question their origins; I myself would not have known the meaning behind the name of this road sign had I not been open to learning. Have you witnessed the renaming of a place from one that disrespects First Nations to one that acknowledges and honors the First People? I’d love to hear! Please comment below.

In learning,

Kim at Culturally Committed

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