British Columbia

Indigenous Grade 4 students get government to change name of provincial park

Grade 4 students from a tribal school on the Saanich Peninsula petitioned the B.C. government to add the name ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ to John Dean Provincial Park. They visited the legislature in Victoria to hear the second reading of the bill to add the W̱SÁNEĆ name to the park.

Students from ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ Tribal School successfully petitioned to change name of John Dean Provincial Park

Students from ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ Tribal School tour the legislature with Green MLA Adam Olsen, Tsartlip Chief Don Tom and their former teacher Melanie Neilson. (CBC/Jean Paetkau)

They started a petition and renamed a provincial park — and they are still a few months shy of finishing Grade 4. 

A group of students from ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱  Tribal School on the Saanich Peninsula were in the legislature in Victoria on May 2 to witness the second reading of a bill they helped to shape. 

Bill 16 contains amendments to the Protected Areas of British Columbia Act that include adding the Indigenous name ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱  to John Dean Provincial Park. 

Danaya Sam is a Grade 4 student from the school that bears the same moniker as the renamed park. 

Danaya says she came to the legislature to "save the mountain." 

"Because people said that they found it first; well, John Dean [did]. But the native people found it first and they named it ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ mountain."

According to B.C. Parks, John Dean was a pioneer who donated land that became a park. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The students called for the name change last spring after a visit to John Dean Provincial Park.

During the trip they were shocked to discover that signs for the park did not bear the name they know for the area, ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱.

Danaya says ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ means a place of refuge, and the mountain in the park is responsible for saving the W̱SÁNEĆ people during a flood. 

Shortly after the field trip the students started a petition and they immediately caught the attention of their local Green MLA Adam Olsen.

From left, Danaya Sam, Jorja Horne, Anthony George and their classmates wrote letters to their local MLA expressing their concerns over the names for John Dean Park. (Melanie Neilson)

'Sacred place'

Olsen, the representative for Saanich North and the Islands, welcomed the young students to the legislature during their visit this week.

As students watched from the public gallery, Olsen praised their leadership from the floor of the legislative chamber. 

"The students visited their sacred mountain and were appalled to see the signage. It had another name. John Dean Provincial Park," Olsen said. 

"They were sad that the name of the sacred place that saved their ancestors was missing. And they wanted that to change."

According to B.C. Parks, John Dean was a pioneer who donated part of the lands for the park in 1921.

'I'm incredibly proud,' chief says

Don Tom, chief of the Tsartlip First Nation and the chair of the W̱SÁNEĆ School Board, joined the students at the legislature.

"I'm incredibly proud of our students who brought this initiative," Tom said. 

"And I'm also really proud that they have in-depth knowledge of their history and that they took the time to write to Adam and to write to the minister of their concerns about ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱. And I think we have a great group of young students here that I'm very proud of."

Students from ȽÁU,WELṈEW̱ Tribal School came to the legislature in Victoria to hear the second reading of the bill that would add the Indigenous name to John Dean Provincial Park. (CBC/Jean Paetkau)

In a press release announcing the change to the name of the park, Minister of Environment and Climate Change Strategy George Heyman says he was moved by the letters from young Indigenous students.

"Giving this park a traditional Indigenous name connects us all with the original history and cultures of our province and supports ongoing reconciliation with Indigenous peoples throughout B.C."


Jean Paetkau

Associate producer, CBC Victoria

Jean Paetkau is an award-winning writer who works as an associate producer for CBC Victoria. Her work includes writing for digital, TV, radio and print.