Nch’Kay (pronounced, to my understanding as, “N’cheek-eye” with an almost silent “N”) sits on the traditional territory of the Squamish Nation and it was not until settlers arrived that the mountain was renamed, Mount Garibaldi. Language and place names are an exercise of power, the continued use of ‘Mt. Garibaldi’ is a linguistic continuation of Canada’s colonial history and contemporary practice which seeks to erase the discursive and physical presence of Indigenous peoples from the landscape. When colonial place names become widely accepted, Canada’s colonial violence in its past, present, and future forms become both obscured and normalized.
In resistance, Jazmyn Williams, along with four other Squamish Nation students at Sea to Sky Learning Connections School, worked on an initiative to reclaim the mountain’s traditional name, ‘Nch’Kay’ during the 2016-2017 school year. The project began in Jennifer Mansour’s humanities class where students were asked to develop a framework to address an issue that affects Squamish – as part of the school’s emphasis on project-based learning, according to Mansour. Jazmyn’s mother, Charlene Williams, the school’s cultural language worker, offered a few suggestions that the group of students could explore centered around the topic of reconciliation.
Charlene’s suggestions inspired the students to work towards reclaiming Garibaldi’s original name, Nch’Kay. Together they argued that using the traditional name would be a sign of respect; an important step towards reconciliation for the community. I spoke with Charlene, who echoed her daughter’s sentiment explaining that reclaiming the mountain’s traditional name was important because Nch’Kay has a deep historical significance for the Squamish Nation. During the great flood, the Nation anchored its canoes to the mountain to survive and as such it shapes who they are and why they are here according to Charlene. She went on to say that it is an insult”that Nch’Kay was renamed by colonizers in honour of Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian nationalist who had never even set foot in Coastal BC.
The students got to work and developed an action plan, says Jazmyn. The first step was petitioning and collecting signatures in the community. From there, the students prepared their argument and brought it forward to the Squamish council. Town council and particularly Mayor Patricia Heintzman were supportive, according to Jazymn. I caught up with Heintzman who told me that she, along with the council felt it was important to support the initiative because reclaiming the iconic mountain’s traditional name honours the Squamish Nation’s language and significance to the area. She went on to say that she and town council are prepared to “do whatever we need to do to support” the students’ initiative.
The district of Squamish sent out a call for letters of support from other municipal governments. Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, Member of Parliament for West Vancouver – Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, responded with a letter. It states the students’ initiative to reclaim the traditional name of Nch’Kay “demonstrates our truth and reconciliation path, and can set an example for others across Canada.” At this point, Jazmyn says that after graduating Learning Connections she is no longer involved with the initiative and it is in the hands of the Aboriginal Youth Group.
After originally writing about this topic for the Squamish Chief nearly two months ago, I spoke with a friend, who encouraged me to ask what my position as a white settler is in this initiative? How can I be responsive to the desire expressed by this Squamish Nation youth group? During this self-reflection, I began to recognize that discursive violence is inseparable from physical violence. Language constructs society and as such we must hold each other accountable to the ways we may be perpetuating systems of oppression through discourse. Thus, as a white settler, who has been fortunate enough to work and live on the traditional and unceded territory of the Squamish Nation, I must make an active effort to abandon colonial place names. To start, I’ll no longer use “Garibaldi”, and instead call the mountain by its name— Nch’Kay.