A resolution to be introduced by Fort Frances Councillor Douglas Judson is calling for the Town to launch a process to rename Colonization Road.
A vote on the resolution, which is seconded by Councillor Andrew Halikas, is expected during the November 23 council meeting. If approved as written, the resolution will direct the Town of Fort Frances to adopt new names for Colonization Road East and West by April 2021, under the guidance of an ad hoc committee made up of Judson, Halikas, Mayor June Caul, and one other councillor. The committee would create a process, which would include opportunities for public input, to create names “consistent with the themes of reconciliation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions Calls to Action, and the nation-to-nation relationship underlying Treaty #3.”
The resolution as written states that the new name “may consist of words, names, or phrases constituted or derived from English or local Indigenous languages and may reflect or describe local history, places, plants, or animals.”
The resolution follows in the footsteps of grassroots efforts in Dryden and Kenora to change the names of their own Colonization Roads. Kenora’s council chose to make its own 50 metre Colonization Road an extension of Nash Road. Dryden is currently in the midst of public debate on the topic.
The term colonization, in the Canadian context, “refers to the harmful legacy of colonizing Indigenous lands, at great cost to Indigenous inhabitants, and to attempts to destroy and erase Indigenous peoples, cultures, languages, and families, as part of the misguided, abusive, and racist policies of colonial governments,” states the proposed resolution.
“The ideology of colonization should not be commemorated by the municipality, and that naming local facilities or streets for colonization is inconsistent with the community’s modern identity and its aspirations for the future,” wrote Judson in a press release.
To facilitate community dialogue, Judson has scheduled an online panel discussion, entitled “Colonization in Context.” It is slated for Wednesday, November 25 from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. During this event, community members can hear perspectives on the need to reconsider names like ‘colonization’ in the interest of reconciliation. The panel will be live-streamed on Facebook and community members are invited to write questions or reactions in the comments section. Event information is available at https://bit.ly/3neDWkp, or by searching for the “Colonization in Context” page in Facebook. The panelists will be: Lloyd Napish, a councillor with Migisi Sahgaigan (Eagle Lake) First Nation who is part of the effort to rename Colonization Avenue in Dryden; JoAnne Formanek Gustafson, a local educator; Jeffrey Denis, a professor of sociology at McMaster University, whose doctoral thesis explored settler-Indigenous history and relationships in the Rainy River District; and a local Indigenous youth and an elder of a local First Nation. A recording of the panel will be made available online for those who can’t participate on November 25.
The resolution has been met with praise by local First Nations leaders.
“We see this situation in many towns and cities where there are place names that still honour the colonial legacy in an age of supposed reconciliation,” said Ogichidaa Francis Kavanaugh, Grand Chief, Grand Council Treaty #3. “Although many may ask what difference a name or a phrase may make and suggest they are merely words, I have to wonder if they view their words of reconciliation with the same level of indifference. With this in mind, it is very difficult to believe reconciliatory promises and requests of cooperation when there has not been basic efforts to address the colonial legacy present in the region. Until our partners take the small steps of addressing issues such as these, it may be difficult – if not impossible – to progress to a point where we may begin coming together to address the larger problems we face moving forward.”
Brian Perrault, Chief of Couchiching, Mitaanjigamiing, Nigigoonsiminikaaning, and Naicatchewenin, said “it is definitely long overdue, and it would be a positive move on behalf of council to do this.”
The debate over the naming of Colonization Road isn’t new. The issue was last set before council in 2017, by private citizen Dawson Mihichuk, with the support of Judson, who was a Couchiching consultant at the time. Mihichuk had presented a 200 signature petition to council, requesting the name change. Council referred the petition to committee for exploration, ultimately voting to receive his request with no further action, following a divisive public debate over social media. At that time, the inconvenience to the 132 residents and five businesses on the road, and the lack of prior consultation with them, was the grounds for the request to be voted down. On the Town end, an Operations and Facilities report indicated it would cost $2,669.51 in labour and materials to replace signage, plus the staff labour required to update Town property files, construction plans, billing, insurance and other documents.
But that was the stance of a previous council, noted Judson.
“Obviously, we cannot promise that this will be burden-less, but municipalities now have guidance that problematic names or symbols like this may constitute actionable discrimination,” he wrote to the Times. “I also think our community is in a place where they understand that reconciliation isn’t and shouldn’t be effortless, and these are poor excuses to leave monuments to systemic racism unchallenged in our midst.”
The full resolution can be viewed by the public here: https://bit.ly/3le4bH2.