July 03, 2010

Changing park name = guilt trip?

A proposal to rename Stanley Park on Vancouver Island has white people up in arms. Here's the argument for it:

Xwayxway Park?  Its appeal would be global, Tourism Vancouver head says

By Jeff LeeRenaming Stanley Park to Xwayxway Park--or even creating a new double-barrelled name--would expand Vancouver's appeal around the world, the head of Tourism Vancouver said Friday.

While public reaction to changing the name of the city's iconic park has been mostly negative, Tourism Vancouver president Rick Antonson said he's in favour of the idea.

"I think it is a wonderful name, and the opportunity to be a part of taking that name internationally to help introduce it would be just a wonderful, though challenging, opportunity," he said. "There is nothing to lose by doing this and much to be gained.

"I can see ourselves as Tourism Vancouver as being advocates for this additional name. This will be something quite comfortable to take on to the world stage as part of the Vancouver story."
And against it:

What's in a name? An X, but why?

By Pete McMartinI am beginning to wonder if there is any anglicized name safe from native lexicological revision, including "Vancouver," "British Columbia" or my own. Probably, there will emanate from the native elders a demand that "Pete" be replaced by its original Coast Salish equivalent which had been in use 10,000 years ago, when history stopped and the natives decided everything belonged to them in perpetuity. Probably, it will translate to "a--hole."

Which I could live with, being accustomed to it.

That the natives want Stanley Park to be renamed Xwayxway, however, is entirely new ground, and seems to abandon the territory of reasonable historical redress in favour of cultural hubris. That is, it is guaranteed to frost the maximum number of non-native people in the minimum amount of time, which the natives must surely have been aware of going in, and which may have been the point. I'm not sure what "Xwayxway" translates to, but it might just as well be "Up Yours, Whitey."

Actually, I don't care what the park is named. Until now, I had no idea it was named after a long-dead governor general. I always felt it was an oddly fusty name for so luxuriant a piece of real estate, anyway. If the natives want to have their xwayxway with it, I, for one, am not going to get too exercised over it.
Martin proceeds to get exercised over it. If it wasn't clear already, he lets us know what he really thinks of those damn Natives and their name changes:Rail against it or rally for it, it doesn't matter. This is a conversation that cannot be had, or won. In cases such as these, the natives have learned to stake the low ground, from which they peer up at us and cry, "You did this to us! You stole our land! You stole our past!"

And what can the answer be but, Oh, yes, yes and yes! Guilty as charged. Happy to oblige. Things happen, as they do in history. Awful things, depending on your point of view.

And because of that, the nation--that is, my nation, not the natives' nations, for they have their own--has stumbled clumsily through several decades worth of remorse and reparation hoping to make things right.

It hasn't worked out that way.

Billions upon billions of dollars later, water quality and housing conditions on reserves, according to recent government reports, remain so bad as to be human rights violations; natives are 31 times more likely to contract tuberculosis than non-natives; male aboriginals now make up 18 per cent of the national male prison population, while female aboriginals make up 24 per cent of the female prison population, increases for both genders; half of B.C.'s aboriginal students drop out before completing high school; and while Canada ranked 10th in the United Nations Human Development Index, our first nations communities, using the same criteria, would rank 76th.

It is a long road ahead toward parity. And yet what is the native community expending its energies on this week? The renaming of a park. Where is its gaze affixed? On the irretrievable past, 10,000 years gone. What is its idea of outreach and public relations? Demand that the city's most beloved landmark be renamed, if only to assuage what they feel should be the non-natives' collective guilt. Expunge your history as you expunged ours.

Sigh. Whatever. What's in a name, anyway, other than everything? So I predict a lame compromise: A tiresome native blessing ceremony, politicians saying the right things, an unveiled bilingual park sign where the two names will fight it out for cultural predominance.
Comment:  Most non-Native Vancouverites are calling the proposed name change "ridiculous" or the like. They're comparing it to changing the name of New York's Central Park. Oh, the horror!

It wouldn't bother me if we gave Central Park an official Native name. People still could and would call it Central Park. It would be like renaming the Kentucky Derby "The Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands," which actually happened. Some newspapers have used the full name dutifully, but most people continue to call it the Kentucky Derby.

Similarly, it wouldn't bother me if they changed the name of my childhood home from Palos Verdes Peninsula to Tongva Peninsula. We'd still call it Palos Verdes in casual conversations. No memories would be lost; no identities threatened.

I'm amazed at how many people invest their hearts and souls in the identity of their "beloved" sports mascot or park. As I've said before, my high school change its team name from the Titans to the Panthers. Were my high school years wiped out of existence? No. In fact, no one died or suffered. Nothing happened. My old yearbooks still refer to us as Titans, and I still think of myself as a Titan. The name change is irrelevant to me.

Martin obviously opposes the name change. His claim that he doesn't care about it is a transparent lie. His prejudice against Natives is palpable.

I particularly like his line about "when history stopped and the natives decided everything belonged to them in perpetuity." You mean the people who occupied a place for 10,000 years don't have a right to claim it? If Al Qaeda launches an attack on Ottawa and claims it as their new sovereign territory, will you accept the claim? Why or why not?

Here we see the imperialist mentality at work. Obviously Martin believes white people "earned" Vancouver Island by conquering it. He has a vague sense that this conquest was illegal or immoral, but he doesn't care. "We're white," he's thinking to himself. "What happened in the past doesn't matter. We're the master race and we're in charge now. If you don't like it, too bad. Love it or leave it."

Martin's arguments

As for his defense of Canada's "helping hand" toward Natives, let's see:

  • "The nation--that is, my nation, not the natives' nations, for they have their own--has stumbled clumsily through several decades worth of remorse and reparation hoping to make things right."

    People like Martin don't feel remorse. They don't care about making things right. Their efforts have been halfhearted at best.

    The biggest problem is that "his" nation, Canada, has taken most of the Natives' land. I believe British Columbia's Natives have outstanding land claims that Canada refuses to address. Without a land base to secure the tribes' future, "reparations" are unlikely to solve every problem.

  • "Billions upon billions of dollars later, water quality and housing conditions on reserves, according to recent government reports, remain so bad as to be human rights violations."

    The stolen land probably is worth trillions of dollars, so the billions of dollars spent aren't necessarily meaningful. I don't know the situation well, but consider how the Lakota lost the Black Hills despite a treaty guaranteeing their ownership. The gold and other minerals extracted from the hills has produced immense wealth...for white people. If that had gone to the lawful Native owners instead, things would be radically different. Not only would the Lakota be wealthy, but they'd have the strength and pride that come from owning and managing a resource.

    Instead, they're living on poor reservations such as Pine Ridge. Any minerals under the ground there? No. Lots of ways to make a living there? No. Will throwing money at the problems solve them? Maybe, but not necessarily.

  • "It is a long road ahead toward parity. And yet what is the native community expending its energies on this week? The renaming of a park. Where is its gaze affixed? On the irretrievable past, 10,000 years gone."

    Who says the past is irretrievably gone? Settle the land claims, give back the land, and you'll see some of the irretrievable past retrieved.

    It doesn't take much energy to suggest changing a park's name. You cross out one name, write in another, and add a paragraph explaining why in 10 minutes. No doubt the tribe that proposed this still has people working on the "important" issues.

    But changes like this are worth a small effort. They serve to correct the fundamental lack of awareness of Natives. Most people don't know or care that Natives are still here. That they have sovereign nations and treaty rights. That they have legitimate grievances that have gone unaddressed. Changing the park name is a reminder of that.

    No valid reason to change?

    The stereotype here is that Natives have no legitimate reason for seeking the name change. They couldn't possibly want to revive their history so they won't be ignored and invisible any longer. The must be playing politics to simply make white people feel guilty. I.e., to make crybabies like Martin start crying.

    Naturally Martin can't or won't address the arguments for changing the park's name. Worldwide publicity for the park resulting in an increase of tourists spending money in the vicinity...who cares? Not if it means changing my sacred relationship with Stanley what's-his-name!

    For Indian-haters like Martin and his newfound love of parks, there's no reason not to accept the dual-name solution. Stanley Park (Xwayxway Park)...or Xwayxway Park (Stanley Park). Both sides can call it what they want...Vancouver can reap the publicity benefits...and Martin can wallow in his self-righteous sense of superiority. "We taught those uppity savages a thing or two. If they think they're going to scalp us and throw us to the wolves, they'd better think again."

    For more on the subject, see Renaming Mt. Ranier, Restoring Traditional Indian Names, and Renaming British Columbia.

    Below:  The Great White Father blesses his Native children. "The best solution to renaming Stanley Park may be a bilingual park sign where the two names fight it out for cultural predominance." (Jon Murray, Vancouver Sun)


    dmarks said...

    Lord Stanley has his cup. He should be satisfied with that. Let everything else get new names.

    m. said...

    What a stimulating read! It's the disingenuous arsenal immigrants and their descendents are equipped with since birth: as engaging as a spoiled child's temper tantrum, clever as a playground retort, and refreshing as expired milk. Then, once they've exhausted their commentary, they blather what they've recently found out about the conditions on reservations, followed briefly by mentioning The Staggering Statistics Of Tragedy(tm) affecting us as a people. But they aren't ahistorical fools, dangit - mommy's and daddy's mommies and daddies did a bad thing, and they know it.

    Basically, the simpleton who penned that article not only showed himself to be incapable of grasping the magnitude of our present day situation, but proved that hyperdefensive settler folk like him are the ones investing all their energies into the names of landmarks. If it's so "lame" (what is he, 14?), if it's a big plot against "whitey", and if you don't care either way...then why bother? Way to make a "point", there, buddy!

    m. said...

    Come to think of it, maybe Pete McMartin is just concerned because every single Indian isn't focusing solely on the injustices deemed worthy of attention ("father knows best"). Which, of course, he has the solutions to. That's why he took the time to share them along with the facts he dug up during his deep research for this article. He actually cares about the bigger issues, that's why he is working with Native people for change and making a positive impact in a notable news source instead of whining in some trashy op-ed.

    Nothing about it reeks of "fix-it-now" naivety, at all.

    Rob said...


    Stanley Park won't be renamed

    Terry Schintz


    The federal government says the name of Stanley Park is not going to be changed.

    That from cabinet minister Stockwell Day late Monday afternoon.

    Some had been pushing to rename the park "Xwayxway," the aboriginal name for a village located there long ago.

    Day says Stanley Park's name is very well established, is cherished by the people of Vancouver and recognized around the world. He says Stanley Park will remain Stanley Park.