City councillor apologizes after remarks about Indigenous street names

Coun. Bryan Anderson apologized Wednesday for remarks he made asking the city's naming committee to consider "usability" before giving city streets Indigenous names.

'He doesn't even realize that his statement was discriminatory,' Cree elder says

Coun. Bryan Anderson's call for the city's naming committee to consider 'usability' of Indigenous names is discriminatory, says a Cree elder. (CBC)

An Edmonton councillor apologized Wednesday for remarks he made asking the city's naming committee to consider "usability" before giving city streets Indigenous names.

After a city council meeting Tuesday, Bryan Anderson questioned the city's decision to rename 23rd Avenue between 215th Street and Anthony Henday Drive to Maskekosihk Trail.

"I'm sorry if I offended anyone with my suggestion, that was not my intent," Anderson said in an email to CBC News.

Anderson's email came after an Edmonton Cree elder demanded a public apology for his remarks.

"He has no right to be telling people, to be telling anybody, to change the way we say things," Taz Bouchier said.

"Our language was forced out of many people and we're doing everything we can to keep the Cree language alive. It's not something to be taken lightly, and it can't be replaced with a simpler word."

Anderson had said people struggle to say and spell certain Indigenous words.

"That's why I'm saying, consider these things when selecting names, and that's all," he said Tuesday. "Things that are in place are in place. If we can have a more usable name and still acknowledge an Aboriginal place or name or person, let's do so."

Accommodating English since contact

Bouchier said Anderson's remarks are a subtle form of discrimination.

"He doesn't even realize that his statement was discriminatory in nature in expecting the First Nations people, the Cree people to adjust according to what he perceives as acceptable names," she said.

"He's not even taking into consideration that we've had to accommodate, since contact, the English language and how that was forced upon many people with the residential schools, foster care systems, and judicial systems."

In an interview with CBC on Wednesday, Anderson said he was concerned about "unintended consequences" when city streets are given Aboriginal names that are difficult to pronounce.

"Please think about how these names are going to be used — when giving somebody an address so they can mail you something important, calling 911 and relating your husband's heart attack at this particular address," he said.

"Will you experience some difficulty in getting your address across?" he asked.

Bouchier didn't buy that argument.

"When you call 911 they are pretty alert to different names in the city," she said.

"He doesn't give them enough credit."

Cree elder Taz Bouchier wants Anderson to make a public apology for asking the city's naming committee to consider using Indigenous names that are easier to pronounce. (Submitted by Taz Bouchier)

At the truth and reconciliation hearings in March 2014, Mayor Don Iveson proclaimed an entire year of reconciliation in Edmonton.

Bouchier said respecting Indigenous languages is key to that reconciliation.

"When I think about reconciliation, I don't think about meeting your standards anymore," she said.

"I think about a partnership. I don't tell you how to be, I don't tell you how to speak, and I don't expect you to accommodate me in everything," she said.

"I expect the relationship to be mutual and understanding that there are differences. In those differences, we can celebrate. We can come together and understand each other."

Public apology wanted

Bouchier said she wants Anderson to apologize at city hall.

"I truly believe he needs to make an apology in the same format, in the same form — a public apology to the Cree people and to all Indigenous people of Edmonton because these things are not to be taken lightly," she said.

"They're what leads to further discrimination. He's in a place of leadership and his voice will be heard by many."

Bouchier is Cree, Sioux, Navajo and Scottish.

Her grandfather was Scottish and didn't speak the same language as her grandmother.

"They managed to make it past their language barrier," she said.

"I think that city council can do that years later. I mean, this is 2016."

"If you don't know how to say the word, Google it. There's no excuse for his statement, there really isn't in this day and age."

nola.keeler@cbc.ca

@nolakeelerCBC

About the Author

Nola Keeler

Nola Keeler is an award-winning journalist who has worked with CBC in Whitehorse, Yukon and Edmonton since 2000. She has worked as a host, reporter, news reader and producer for CBC. Send story ideas to nola.keeler@cbc.ca.