Emo’s Colonization Street renamed in friendship

Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A new name has been chosen to replace Colonization Street in Emo, Ontario, to honour the town’s relationship with Indigenous peoples in the area.

On September 13, Emo town council voted unanimously to rename Colonization Street to Neechee Miikanaa, which means “Friendship Road”. The name Neechee Miikanaa was chosen by Albert Hunter, an elder from Rainy River First Nation.

Rainy River First Nation is located a short drive west of Emo. Hunter met with Coun. Lincoln Dunn and interim Chief Administrative Officer Crystal Grey in the township office, and was told about the need for a new street name.

“I offered Al tobacco and he agreed to come up with some sort of idea for a new name for the street,” Coun. Dunn said. “And then I met with him at his home a couple of weeks later, and he brought back the name Neechee Miikanaa Street, which means ‘friendship road’. I think it’s great. I think it’s very appropriate.”

Offering tobacco wrapped in cloth is a custom used when asking for assistance from an Indigenous elder. It represents respect and gratitude for the help provided, and is often used when asking for a song, an opening prayer, a teaching, Indigenous knowledge, or for advice.

In the council meeting, Coun. Harrold Boven pointed out a “historical reference,” saying that the idea to rename the street started on May 17, 2021, after Mayor Harold McQuaker led a presentation to the chief secretariat.

Boven also noted that the street had undergone multiple name changes since it was first built, one being Genie Street.

He agreed with Dunn’s sentiment that a change was long overdue, and expressed his gratitude to everyone who made it happen.

Mayor Harold McQuaker asked if it was possible to have two names for the road, suggesting both Neechee Miikanaa and Friendship Road.

Coun. Lori Ann Shortreed and Coun. Dunn said that it would be best to choose one street name, and that it would be less confusing if only one was chosen.

Coun. Warren Toles expressed his frustration with the process of changing street names, and noted potential issues for couriers or people on their commute.

“I hope the powers that be actually make the change on the maps and the directions a lot sooner than they’ve done before … Some of the couriers can’t find us. They say, ‘Front Street—well that’s not anywhere in our computer.’ And I say, ‘Gill Street’ and they say ‘oh yeah that’s there,’” Toles said.

The councilors considered various mix ups that have occurred, before agreeing that it was an unavoidable part of the process.

Other communities in the northwest such as Fort Frances and Dryden have shared similar experiences when they renamed their streets also named Colonization. Fort Frances mayor, June Caul, noted that the Town had received input from residents that road name changes required a lot of work to update various forms of identification. Caul had said that she saw both sides of the debate but that it was more important to educate people on what had happened to Indigenous people in the past.

The Emo council hopes to eventually hold a ceremony to commemorate the new street name—Neechee Miikanaa, meaning “Friendship Road”—and the small step toward strengthening relations with the neighboring Rainy River First Nation community.