Winnipeg moving forward on name changes to reflect reconciliation, but process could be improved: prof

The City of Winnipeg has slowly been working through the process of renaming some parks and trails over the past year to better reflect Indigenous history, but a professor of Indigenous history hopes the city will improve on that process as the work goes ahead.

The Welcoming Winnipeg: Reconciling our History initiative, run by the City of Winnipeg’s Indigenous relations division, is part of the city’s reconciliation effort, according to its website. The goal is to more accurately reflect the history and perspectives of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, it says.

A volunteer committee sorts through name change applications based on a series of questions, including how the site impacts Indigenous communities.

Six out of 14 sites that have had name changes, or are up for review, either have no connection to Indigenous history or state the connection is being on Treaty 1 land, according to those applications.

“Everything in the city of Winnipeg is on Treaty 1 territory,” said Karen Froman, an assistant professor of Indigenous history at the University of Winnipeg. 

Froman, who is Mohawk from Six Nations of the Grand River, said the project is “problematic” if some sites up for a potential name change have nothing to do with Indigenous history.

Froman said she’s happy the city is committed to changing names that ignore Indigenous history, like a vote coming up Thursday on changing the name of Wellington Park to Theodore Niizhota Fontaine Park.

But she hopes the focus remains on Indigenous history.

“If projects are still remaining settler-focused, or only focusing on the settler project or community — without emphasizing the Indigenous side of that story — it shouldn’t be in the reconciliation project.”

Karen Froman, an assistant professor of Indigenous history at the University of Winnipeg, said she hopes the city focuses on renaming projects that focus on reconciliation. (Randall Mckenzie/CBC)

The city said most renaming requests — whether they have a connection to reconciliation or not — go through the Welcoming Winnipeg project. 

Those working in the city’s Indigenous relations division say this is a process they believe is unique to Winnipeg, so they’re figuring it out as they go.

“I think it’s progress,” said Danielle Carriere, who works on the renaming process.

“I’ve been with the Indigenous relations division for almost eight years, and just seeing the growth in awareness [of Indigenous history] has made me hopeful.”

Carriere said in one instance of a name change where there was no Indigenous history connection, the committee added a land and water acknowledgement to the proposed signage.

“That is an opportunity to provide education, one of the principles of Welcoming Winnipeg, in a way I don’t think would have been considered prior ro this process.”

Bishop Grandin renaming still in the works

A proposed name change for Bishop Grandin Boulevard, meanwhile, is still under review.

The road, named after a man who helped create residential schools, came into question last year.

Mayor Brian Bowman tweeted last year that he wanted to change the name after Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation in British Columbia announced the discovery of what are believed to be 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloopos Indian Residential School.

In September, Bowman attended a ceremony that started the renaming process for Bishop Grandin, according to notes from the mayor’s Indigenous Advisory Circle meeting. 

The Indigneous relations division says the renaming process is still going.

“It may not be happening as quickly as people wold like to see, but we want to do it in the best way possible,” said Carriere.

The Welcoming Winnipeg committee is not responsible for name changes, as stated on its website.

On Wednesday, Bowman’s office told CBC the Indigenous relations division “is still in the process of considering this,” and that the division’s work is independent of the mayor’s.

“He remains hopeful that their work will conclude soon so that a new name can be brought forward to council for consideration,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.