Saskatchewan changes the name of Killsquaw Lake to honour Indigenous women
The province of Saskatchewan is seen in this map of Canada.
Ryan McKenna, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, November 20, 2018 3:54PM EST
REGINA -- The Saskatchewan government has changed the derogatory name of several lakes to one that celebrates Indigenous women instead.
The group of lakes near the town of Unity in the western part of the province was previously known as Killsquaw Lake. Area elders have given the spot a new Cree name that means "we honour the women."
"It's an event today that I think we can be proud of in hopes of reclaiming our territories and our place names as Indigenous people," Sheldon Wuttunee, who worked on the renaming project, said from North Battleford, Sask., on Tuesday.
His relative, Kellie Wuttunee, petitioned to the Saskatchewan government for a change more than a year ago. The former name undermined the pride and self-esteem of Indigenous people, she said.
Denigrating place names in Saskatchewan and Canada need to be changed, she added.
"Words are powerful. Names are powerful. They inform our identity," Kellie Wuttunee said in a release Tuesday.
"With actions like this, we are reminding each other and telling the world that we can learn from our mistakes and move forward together."
Parks Minister Gene Makowsky says the area will now be known as Kikiskitotawanawak Iskewak Lakes.
"This change will recognize and honour the Cree women who lost their lives in this area in the 19th century with a name that better reflects the language and culture of those being commemorated," he said.
Sheldon Wuttunee, a former chief of Red Pheasant First Nation, said there was likely a miscommunication in the early 1900s between the word iskwew, which means woman in Cree, and squaw, a derogatory term for Indigenous women.
He said translating at the time was rough.
"The word squaw is a word that our women and our people find offensive and derogatory," Sheldon Wuttunee said.
The name change recognizes what Indigenous women have had to overcome, from the residential school system to enduring the pass system where Indigenous people required permission to leave their reserve, he said.
"It's been a difficult road in trying to gain independence, sovereignty, those types of issues of recognition," he added.
Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Chief Bobby Cameron said the old name represented the prejudicial mentality of former settlers.
"Changing the name of this lake today shows a great respect and step forward towards healing the racial divide in this province, while honouring the First Nations women we've lost, our lands and waters and our Cree language," he said in a statement.