bc-080308-georgia-strait

The Strait of Georgia separates the southwest mainland coast of B.C. from Vancouver Islands. ((Province of British Columbia Shore Unit Map Gallery))

B.C.'s Aboriginal Relations Minister Mike De Jong is reacting enthusiastically to a pitch from a Vancouver Island First Nation to rename the Strait of Georgia.
 
The proposal would see the body of water between Vancouver Island and the B.C. mainland become the Salish Sea to honour aboriginal settlement of the area that predates European exploration by thousands of years.

The Strait of Georgia was originally named by Captain George Vancouver, one of the first Europeans to arrive in 1792, in honour of King George III.

De Jong said he's in favour of renaming the busy waterway that divides Vancouver Island and the Lower Mainland, saying it would help identify geographical places in the province where aboriginal history can be reflected.

"It's a history of this place that extends beyond just 150 years. I liked the sound of the Salish Sea," he said.

"At this point, it's an idea and I'm interested enough to pursue it."

However, de Jong said the name change would likely be a complex process.

The term Salish, refers to Coast Salish, the original language of the aboriginal inhabitants of the protected coast, including present-day Vancouver, the Sunshine Coast, the east coast of Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, the lower parts of the Fraser River, and Puget Sound in Washington State.

Archeological evidence indicates the area was first settled roughly 9000 years ago, after the retreat of the last ice age.

Chemainus First Nation representative George Harris pitched the idea of renaming the strait to de Jong at an aboriginal summit on Friday in Vancouver.
 
De Jong called the proposal "an idea whose time has come," and pledged to put it before the provincial cabinet for discussion.

Lately the minister has been attempting to repair government relations with B.C. aboriginals, who complain they've been left out of the province's 150th anniversary celebrations.

However, renaming would require a formal application to the Geographical Names Board of Canada, and could meet stiff opposition.

The idea is not without precedent. Previously, the Queen Charlotte Islands on B.C.'s Central Coast were given a second name, Haida Gwaii, which means "our land" in the language of the Haida Nation.

But Monarchist League of Canada spokesman Bill Blore called any renaming of the strait a "terrible" idea, suggesting that something else could be named after First Nations instead.

One native leader, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, the president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said it would represent only a symbolic gesture on the part of the province.

"I believe that there are much more pressing issues facing First Nations in terms of the deepening poverty in our communities," he said. "We need much more than symbolic gestures."

He said his people need fundamental legislative reform.