Indigenous voices, councillors pushback over Edmonton ward changes

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Edmonton City Council recently voted 9-4 to adopt indigenous names for the city's 12 wards, pending final approval in December. The motion was put forward by Councilor Aaron Paquette to bring more awareness to indigenous people, with each proposed name representing an effort to revitalize traditional indigenous languages and present a tangible bid for reconciliation.

Each name depicts a geographical or cultural connection to the historical landscape, like O-day'min (Ward 5), which is Anishinaabe for "the heart through which the North Saskatchewan River runs." An otherwise fitting name, given that it constitutes the downtown core.

Other examples include Karhiio (Ward 11), which is Mohawk for "a tall, beautiful forest," and Dene (Ward 4) or "all people of land and water."

However, concerns arose among city councillors and voters alike over costs incurred by the naming committee and whether this constitutes actual reconciliation.

Councillor Mike Nickel, who also voted against the motion, voiced concerns from indigenous Edmontonians on social media, taking the opportunity to chime in on the controversial debate.

"Recently, Council voted to rename our wards using Indigenous names. I voted yes to the original request to put it forth for discussion but ultimately voted no. We've had almost ten years to move other Indigenous concerns forward in our city, but we somehow settled for virtue-signalling?"

Nickel concludes: "I am now hearing from many Indigenous voices who are not okay with these changes and cultural appropriation. We just changed our football team's name for almost the same reasons, so why are 'Mayor & Friends' heading down this road again? City Council must consult the public, including Indigenous citizens, and rethink this issue."

According to Ward 3 Councilor Jon Dziadyk, who also voted against the motion, concerns arose whether the move to rename the ward justified a $150,000.00 price tag without public consultation and whether it constituted appropriate spending amid the pandemic and jobs crisis.

"While a total breakdown was not provided yet, none of it went to public consultation," says Dziadyk. According to Edmonton's GBA+ policy, we should engage with as many peoples as possible through different means. However, this is the first time in a long time that we have enacted a citywide change where we did not consult with the public."

"I was under the impression that the $150,000.00 allocated for this committee would consult with Edmontonians as is the established procedure."

Dziadyk was onboard with tying ward names to local geography or landmarks of the area. Still, the proposed and now accepted names did not meet the direction provided, he writes.

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