A Proposal for Approaching Street and Area Renaming Processes as a Method of Decolonisation in London, Ontario
A letter from Madeline Braney, Mackenzie Desbiens, Olivia Ezman and Lexie Hesketh-Pavilons
This project had been underway for several months, with plans to showcase our research visually at a conference. The emergence of the national pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus brought these plans to a halt, and with this, we were left struggling to find a way to bring our research to life, in a meaningful, albeit, less visual way. Stumped, we asked for guidance from our first semester professor, Jamelie Hassan, and our current professor Patrick Mahon. Jamelie provided us with some food-for-thought, while Patrick offered a practical approach to re-frame our deliverable.
With the emergence of any pandemic, or catastrophic event on a local and global scale comes uncertainty. It is fitting, that while attempting to wrap up a project themed in the global-local, we are at once, perhaps more than ever, aware of our communities at home and communities worldwide, while we all struggle through the same emergency. We are at once connected with China, Italy and Iran, among all other countries which have been affected. The global is less distant, and the community of one’s local area feels all the more essential. While unprecedented times can be destructive to the concept of community, we have chosen to allow COVID-19 to unify us, as students, members of various Ontario cities, and most importantly, as Canadians. When considering the unification of these global-local communities, it is especially pertinent that this includes Indigenous communities. While our project has been interrupted, their livelihood has been even more so, with closures of reserves, including Chippewa on the Thames, which our class had the privilege to visit in first semester. Many of us have access to essential resources, but the same cannot be said for the Indigenous peoples across Canada without access to clean drinking water. There is great concern for how this pandemic will affect our most vulnerable communities, and with this, we must consider Canada’s Indigenous population.
Our project is focused on reconciliation, and decolonization through renaming processes. Throughout this process, we have been careful to consider our own stances and biases regarding renaming, acknowledging that none of us are Indigenous. We hope to make a difference, though we want to be allies, rather than those who lead these changes. There are many more knowledgeable Indigenous peoples who can take on this role, if they choose. Thus, we have decided to develop a report, or preliminary plan citing our motivations behind this project, and next steps for the London community to take towards implementation. Through this report, we will draw awareness to the importance of reconciliation, and how renaming spaces in London may work to decolonize the city. Mostly, we hope to support London’s local Indigenous community.
This pandemic may cause one to focus inward; on one’s own health, family, or plans for the future. However, we urge our fellow students, professors and local community members, to remember all who have been affected. We hope that this project will be an impetus for change in the London community, but mostly, we hope that this project will serve as a reminder of the conditions which band us together, both locally and globally.
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This project has been incredibly fluid and dynamic, continuously evolving as we gained knowledge and insight into the realities of ongoing colonialism, marginalization, allyship, and reconciliation throughout SASAH’s fourth-year capstone seminar class. Through a series of on-site classes throughout the year, we have been immersed in multiple situations that have allowed us to reflect on our position in society in relation to the position of other inhabitants in London, Ontario. We received a lecture from Tom Cull, a Western University professor, poet laureate, and the director of Thames River Rally, a grassroots environmental group dedicated to cleaning up the riverbanks of the Thames, river, flowing through the heart of London. Cull discussed the importance of protecting natural habitats and history within our history. He also discussed a movement to decolonize the Thames river by reinstating its Anishnaabe name, Deshkan Ziibi. The idea of decolonization through re-naming sparked the inspiration for this project and it continued to evolve from that point onward. Our professor Jamelie Hassan provided us with the opportunities to engage with indigenous communities by taking us on a site-visit to Chippewas of the Thames First Nation. This gave us personal insight into the realities that indigenous communities in and surrounding London are currently facing, and inspired us to create a thoughtful, ongoing dialogue with these communities while approaching renaming processes in London. Rather than creating a deliverable about Indigenous peoples, we wanted to recognize our position as non-indigenous, Western university students, and serve as allies, standing behind indigenous communities to create a valuable deliverable with them. This approach to allyship was inspired by Dr.Tarek Loubani who discussed how to serve others thoughtfully rather than forcing your altruism upon them. Since this process was so dynamic and continuously evolving, our deliverable changed many times throughout the year. A project proposal was not our initial intent, but we hope to provide a valuable framework that can be used by many to approach the topic of renaming as an act of decolonisation in London, Ontario. This proposal will discuss the rich and complex indigenous history in and surrounding London, Ontario, explain the value in renaming, analyze specific case studies where renaming occured, provide interviews and public opinion about the subject, and finally, provide recommendations for next steps in this process.
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Indigenous History in London, Ontario
The City of London Ontario and the surrounding region of Middlesex County have long been associated with territory traditionally inhabited by three local First Nations communities, including the Oneida Nation of the Thames, the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation, and Munsee-Delaware Nation. The Oneida Nation of the Thames is part of the Haudenosaunee Nation and is commonly referred to as Iroquois or Six Nations (SOAHC, 2016). They are members of a confederacy of First Nations known as the Haudenosaunee Confederacy - Seneca, Cayuga, Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk and Tuscarora. Chippewas of the Thames First Nation is part of the Anishinabek Nation, and this cultural group represents a majority of the Algonquin speaking nations including the Ojibwe, Odawa, Potawatomi and Algonquin peoples. Lastly, the Munsee-Delaware Nation is part of the Lunaapeew Nation, and they are one of the three Lunaapeew communities in Canada (SOAHC, 2016).
According to various archaeological records, these communities have inhabited the land where London currently sits today for thousands of years prior to the city’s settlement. The European settlement history of London began in 1793, when Lieutenant-Governor John Graves Simcoe selected the territory as the future site for the capital of the province (City of London, 2018). However, London was not founded until 1826 when there was a need for a new district town in the region (City of London, 2018). Through the city’s founding, several treaties were signed to displace the First Nations communities that originally occupied the land and to this day such treaties are still in place.
For the Oneida Nation of the Thames their traditional homelands reside in the state of New York (Oneida Nation of the Thames, n.d.), however due to continued treaty violations and forced tribal land cessions, some of the Oneida Nation moved north into Ontario. Originally the nation was guaranteed of their claim to their traditional homelands in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784 and again in the 1789 Treaty of Fort Harmar. Yet, continuous US government action reduced Oneida territory from approximately six million original acres to only a few hundred acres and then in 1838, the Treaty of Buffalo Creek forced the removal of all Iroquois from New York State (Oneida Nation of the Thames, n.d.). In reaction to this treaty some two hundred Oneidas sold their New York land in 1839 and jointly purchased 5,200 acres in Delaware Township near the City of London, creating the reserve that we see today (Oneida Nation of the Thames, n.d.).
For the Chippewas on the Thames First Nation, they sold much of their original land to the Crown for a sum that was originally to be paid in pots, pans, knives, and cloth. However through negotiations the Chiefs of the Chippewa’s of the Thames changed the payment to $2400 dollars per year, a payment which the community still receives each year (Chippewas of the Thames, 2019). This was all recorded in the Longwoods Treaty, a treaty negotiated from 1818 to 1822, and who’s sole signatories were the Chippewas of the Thames leaders(Chippewas of the Thames, 2019). The treaty area encompassed approximately 900 square miles and was created in order to establish separate reserves for the Chippewas of the Thames and the Big Bear Creek Nations. The Crown, however, sold the Big Bear Creek lands without consultation or compensation, and the Big Bear Creek people were moved to the Chippewas of the Thames reserve (Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, 2016). This issue led to a land dispute that was only recently resolved in 2013, upon which the Chippewas were given a settlement amount which they could then use to purchase more land or use it to serve another purpose in the community(Chippewas of the Thames, 2019).
Lastly, the Munsee - Delaware Nation’s territorial homeland traces back to settlements along the tributary streams that flowed into the Delaware and Hudson River through the present States of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and New Jersey (History - Munsee-Delaware, 2019). However, in the early 18th century they came to settle along the banks of the Thames River after coming across the Niagara River following the American revolution (History - Munsee-Delaware, 2019). Unfortunately the land on which they were told to settle had already been occupied by the Chippewas since 1819 yet in 1840 the Munsee and the Chippewa finally reached an agreement to share the land. The Munsee reserve is currently located about 25km southwest of the city and covers roughly 3 square kilometres (History - Munsee-Delaware, 2019).
For the indigenous population, the City of London was not a welcoming one up until recently, and even today these communities still face discrimination. Up until the 1950’s, past laws made it illegal for First Nations people to leave their reserves without permission leaving so many indigenous individuals unable to settle within the city boundaries much less even leave the territory they resided on (McCue, 2011). Other colonial measures like residential schools, the 1860 Indian Act, unfulfilled treaties, and forced land acquisition all contributed to an environment of forced assimilation and deep rooted stigma (Northern Affairs Canada, 2018). And this all led to the indigenous population being ostracized and erased from the city’s history for many decades.
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Value of Renaming
The practice of renaming, in the forms of street reclamation and acknowledgement of Indigenous spaces or areas, is a vital process that should be adopted in the City of London. It is a step further towards reconciliation between the city and Indigenous Peoples, and shows a willingness from the citizens towards meaningful engagement with the surrounding nations. It would also allow for more visibility of Indigenous people, who for many centuries have been erased from the city’s history.
Colonial practices are deeply rooted in London’s history and they have led to the loss of identity for many of the First Nations that once inhabited the territory on which the city stands. Renaming would help recognize and remember the struggles faced by indigenous people in forming the city’s history, and it would help reinstate their influence on the land that they were forced from.
Furthermore, renaming would create a more welcoming environment and one that fosters respect and engagement with the surrounding communities to learn more about their histories along with their social and cultural practices. With local leaders and the city cooperating together it would help dispel the fear and stigma that is currently held by many in terms of engaging with indigenous communities. In this regard, it is essential that the process directly involve indigenous leaders from the respective communities surrounding London, as they know their history best and would choose names and places that are the most meaningful to them. Indigenous leadership and input in this process is vital for the proposal to be successful and effective, especially for their own people.
Each community is part of a distinct nation that has a unique culture, traditions, history, experiences, and perspectives. This makes it important for the city to be aware of and responsive to the specific and distinct cultural groups it serves. By taking this step of renaming, the city and indigenous leaders would be able to cooperate together to recognize these many cultures and histories and it would encourage all citizens to engage and educate themselves in such matters.
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Across the country, renaming processes have been taking place in the forms of street reclamation and acknowledgement of Indigenous spaces or areas. The Ogimaa Mikana Project is leading the way in renaming processes in Ontario. The project is “an effort to restore Anishinaabemowin place names to the streets, avenues, roads, paths and trails of the Gichi Kiiwening (Toronto)- transforming a landscape that often obscures or makes invisible the presence of Indigenous peoples” (Ogimaa Mikana: Reclaiming/ Renaming).
Hayden King, director of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson, and Susan Blight, student life coordinator at University of Toronto’s First Nations House, whom started the project reference language loss as an impetus for beginning the movement towards renaming, in he hopes that the billboards will “reinsert First Nations people back into the narrative” and bring public attention towards Indigenous areas which have been colonized. King and Blight have focused their attention on Toronto’s Parkdale neighborhood which has gentrified and was once a largely Indigenous community. Comparing Parkdale with neighborhoods in London feels relevant as several of these neighborhoods are undergoing or have undergone gentrification. Billboards serve as a reminder that a neighborhood or community may change, but that it’s history and foundations cannot be removed. Blight said, “I want people to think about how renaming is used as a tool of colonial erasure” (Huffington Post). King and Blight have expanded their project beyond Toronto, with billboards throughout the Anishinaabe territory, which includes London. While billboards are King and Blight’s recent focus, they have also worked on reclamation projects involving street signs.
Large renaming processes in Canada date back to the 1980s and 1990s in the Arctic. What is now known as Iqaluit, the capital of Nunavut, was once Frobisher Bay, named after colonial era explorer Martin Frobisher. Brenda Macdougall writes that, “For the Inuit, this act of restoration signaled support for their sovereignty and embodied in their culture, language, and traditions” (Macdougall). While this change was controversial at the time, Indigenous renaming or the removal of colonial names has grown more prominent in recent years. Macdougall also notes efforts to remove the names of Sir John A. Macdonald and Sir William Cornwallis from public areas or signage, due to their involvement of support of residential schools.
British Columbia’s Nigsa’a Nation have also renamed city names and culturally significant sites, along with trails or general areas. While many renaming processes focus specifically on street or city names, a better approach for London may be to focus on culturally significant areas, or the Deshkan Ziibi River.
These case studies from across Canada prove that a renaming project is not only feasible, but a project which aligns closely with Indigenous initiatives nationally. Furthermore, they provide new perspectives of how this project may be conducted. While we had first focused on reinstating Indigenous street names, perhaps it would be more worthwhile, as a next step, to research Indigenous cultural spaces around London or the implementation of new Indigenous street names, which reflect London’s current Indigenous population.
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Interviews / Public Opinion
Community involvement and the opinions of the public are incredibly crucial to this project's aims and eventual implementation. Included in this process, will be interviews, videos, and quotes captured from London’s Indignenous population. Having conversations with other leaders in the community, who may also be interested in this initiative will also be useful. We have had the pleasure of working with several steering committees of London’s Community Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2017, who are currently advocating directly for human rights and inclusivity in the city and colonial overlapping of street names could be brought to a broader audience of the community and gain increased awareness and media attention through these groups, or their Chairs. London’s Inclusion Strategy has already dedicated Indigenous, First Nations, Metis and Inuit issues and reconciliation as a focus, ensuring that “local Indigneous Peoples lead the change within the community” (CDIS, London), and this project aims to do the same. With any community project, interest and engagement from the community is imperative. We feel that the CDIS group dedicated to Indgienous issues may be a fantastic starting point, for garnering support from Indigenous peoples in London and allies.
In our original project plan, we had hoped to interview community leaders, especially those who may have oral history of pre-colonial Indigneous named spaces in London, such as Nancy Deleary and Brenda Collins. Amid COVID-19, our interview process was halted. As such, it is an important next step for this project. Speaking with community members served another purpose beyond simply seeking information; as non-Indigenous students, we wanted to conduct this project in a way which would be reflective of Indigenous values and reconciliation efforts which were important to them. In essence this project will take an ethnographic approach to collect public opinion, as community involvement will be the key element of success. As mentioned before, it was imperative that we operate through an understanding of Dr. Tarek Loubani’s allyship, and with this, the project could not be completed on our own. While we have seen value in this project, and have used case studies to demonstrate that it has Indigenous support and leadership across Canada, we felt it important to be open to constructive criticism or the possibility of this project being reshaped, so to better reflect Indigenous ideas. It is our hope that if this project is continued, that these beliefs are held continually by whomever works with these ideas next. Reconciliation is not a linear process and this project is anything but ‘definite,’ but what we do know for certain, is that reconciliation is not only valuable, but essential.
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Next Steps for Implementation
Indigenous street renaming seems to have become a movement, against colonization and sovereign power, implemented already in certain provinces within Canada, and in major cities like Toronto. The next step is to stretch this movement even further-and implement similar strategies previously undertaken, here in London as well.
Prior to acting on these steps however, this project will be considering approximately how many street signs we will need to budget for and how we will receive funding for them, and possibly how we will get a toponymist onboard with the project, because coordinating with someone who has background knowledge on the subject of our project, could be extremely useful (Rose-Redwood, 309-310).
Suggested Step for street/space renaming and reclamation:
● Review existing street names or areas and London which hold or previously held Indigenous significance
● Review and research what others are doing to implement Indigenous street names/ billboards/ areas
● Test out newly designed and translated street names in neighbourhoods
● Implement new street signage or other designation
● Ensure civilians will know their new address, if changed, and most importantly, the significance behind the decolonization effort, or new Indeignous representation
Other forms of representation could be implemented as well, like landmarks and other kinds of labelling that could be addressed to city council, to increase processes of Indigenous recognition and reconciliation. Most importantly, one must remember that “reconciliation is not just about place names. It's more about how are we going to live together and how are we going to live ethically together in an atmosphere of peace and civility”, Niigaan Sinclair, an associate professor in the University of Manitoba's department of native studies, said (CBCnews).
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It is evident that renaming is a complex process that requires a thoughtful approach. Due to London’s rich indigenous history, it could be valuable to consider street renaming as a way of decolonising London while simultaneously adding indigenous cultural value to the community. As seen in the cases of Toronto, British Columbia, and other locations throughout Canada, renaming processes have proven to be both successful and valuable. It is evident that more research needs to be conducted within Indigenous communities to determine if renaming is truly needed and valued in London, Ontario, or, if it would be more beneficial to undertake other processes that are perceived as more valuable to indigenous communities. Those undertaking this project in the future should consider the ways in which their own identity could influence their findings and thus should use a multilateral approach consulting a variety of indigenous community members, especially elders. Future renaming undertakings in London, Ontario could take many different forms, but the overarching focus of this project should be reconciliation, education, and the re-establishment of indigenous value to “colonized” spaces.
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We would like to thank Tom Cull, for igniting the flame that sparked our project, Nancy Deleary for welcoming us to her home and teaching us about how to approach reconciliation, and Dr. Tarek Loubani for defining what it truly means to be an ally. We would like to give a special thanks to Jamelie Hassan and Patrick Mahon for guiding us through this process and providing the important materials and framework that informed our approach.
Caton, Hilary. “Hayden King and Susan Blight Part of Ogimaa Mikana Project with Billboards in Parkdale.” 29 Mar. 2016. Link
“Founding of the Forest City.” History of London , City of London, 2018. Link
Garrick, Rick. “Where the Streets Have an Old Name.” Link
Hamilton Community Legal Clinic. “Aboriginal History Month #3.” Hamilton Community Legal Clinic, 2016. Link
“Indigenous Culture Card.” SouthWest Health Line , Southwest Ontario Aboriginal Health Access Centre SOAHC, 2016. Link
“History - Munsee-Delaware Nation.” Munsee Delaware Nation , 2019. Link
“London’s Community Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2017” CDIS, London Canada, Document.
Macdougall, Brenda. “Naming and Renaming: Confronting Canada's Past.” Link
McCue, Harvey A. “Reserves.” The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2011. Link
Nigsa'a Final Agreement . Government of British Columbia. Link
Northern Affairs Canada. “History of Indigenous Peoples, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada and the Treaty Relationship.” Government of Canada; Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, 2018. Link
Ogimaa Mikana: Reclaiming/Renaming. Link
“Oneida Lands - Estates.” Oneida Nation of the Thames. Link
“Oneida Settlement.” Oneida Nation of the Thames. Link
“Our History.” Chippewas of the Thames, 2019. Link
Paling, Emma. “Aboriginal Sign Project Aims to Reclaim and Rename.” Link
“Removing Monuments, Renaming Streets Not Priority for Indigenous Manitobans: Poll | CBC News.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 1 Feb. 2019. Link
Rose-Redwood, Reuben, et al. “Contemporary Issues and Future Horizons of Critical Urban Toponymy.” The Political Life of Urban Streetscapes: Naming, Politics, and Place, 1st ed., vol. 1, Routledge, 2018, pp. 309–19. Link
“Dish with One Spoon wampum belt. The Dish with One Spoon is a common diplomatic metaphor for Great Lakes Indigenous nations. It is considered among the early treaties between the Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee and also among the first that French and English settlers” (Ogimaa Mikana)