London·Public Domain

London street names should reflect local Indigenous heritage

Ramona Sault writes now is 'Time for ReconcilACTION' and London can be a part of it. Renaming a city street like Riverside Drive to reflect local Indigenous culture would be a good start.

Ramona Sault writes now is 'Time for ReconcilACTION' and London can be a part of it.

Public Domain is our digital space for opinion. London and area residents are invited to submit articles for posting on the CBC London website.

On National Aboriginal Day, Ramona Sault writes that it's a good time for London to reach out to neighbouring Indigenous communities.

When I moved to London from Windsor a few years ago, I was looking forward to working in the community as a resource to support First Nations and Indigenous peoples.

I thought that a city located within 20 kilometres of three distinct First Nation communities (Chippewa of the Thames, Oneida Nation of the Thames and Munsee-Delaware Nation) would be engaged and more advanced in the work they were doing with respect to Indigenous relations.

Intersection at Dundas Street and Richmond Street in downtown London, Ontario. (Colin Butler/CBC)

I accepted an invitation to engage as a citizen of London on the Community Diversity Inclusion Strategy committee. I was so excited to offer my unique perspective and be a positive influence towards local change. 

My hopes for the committee were quickly diminished when I realized that First Nations and Indigenous matters would be approached from within the broad "Diversity Strategy". 

It was at this moment that I understood how far behind the City of London was in taking a purposeful approach to First Nation and Indigenous engagement and action.   

Changing street names

During the #BoldSteps campaign undertaken by the CBC, I was asked about 'one Bold Step London can take'. My answer was 'to change some of the street names to reflect the Anishinabe culture and the territory they are in'. Simple, right? 

Toronto has been working on street names to reflect aboriginal culture as well as developing Canada's First Indigenous Business District. On the national scene, we can look to the example of Vancouver, which has appointed an Aboriginal Relations Manager and is boasting itself as the 'World's First City of Reconciliation'. 

It would be neat to see London's Riverside Drive renamed Deshkan Ziibi — which is Ojibwe language (or Anishnaabemowin) for Antler River.

Or, with urban development creeping westward towards our nations, perhaps new subdivisions could be reflective of our traditional territory. The medicines we use such as Sweetgrass, Sage, Tobacco and Cedar could be incorporated in the names of these subdivisions. 

As an individual, I can't speak for the nations, just offer some ideas. What matters — moving forward — is meaningful consultation engaging all respectfully.

Now is the time for action

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its findings in December, 2015. It offered 94 'calls to action' and provided specific direction to many sectors while placing a shared responsibility in the hands of all Canadians. It's no longer acceptable to use the excuse "we don't know where to start". 

We all play a part moving forward and change starts at the individual level. 

Approaching Canada's 150th anniversary of Confederation, huge issues remain — access to clean drinking water, poor living conditions and the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women epidemic.

Is there hope? Despite current gaps, I remain hopeful and genuinely excited for my children, grandchildren and the next seven generations to come. 

Conversation underway

Never before have we seen the level of conversation and commitment from all levels wanting to know more, how to be respectful of our shared history and acknowledging the value and impact Indigenous people have on the local economic landscape. 

The misconception that First Nations are financially dependant and a strain on Canadian citizens is simply out dated and wrong.

Last year, Indigenous households contributed $32 billion to the national GDP, exceeding Newfoundland, Labrador and PEI combined. Chippewa of the Thames estimates its annual contributions to be roughly $17 million annually, though this is not reflective of the local landscape and external relationships.

What can London do?

Take your pick, I've named a few already; territorial street names, an Indigenous business district in the city or even an Indigenous Relations Officer at City Hall. 

There is a lot of good work and meaningful conversation occurring such as the support we have received from Pillar Non-Profit Network, Fanshawe College and Western University just to name a few.  As well there have been some initial meetings with Mayor Matt Brown's office and city departments but there's so much more to be done.   

Just imagine the acceleration of advancement if London had someone to champion the work on our behalf and to create an environment where we are treated with dignity, given opportunity, sought for our expertise and respected for the value we bring to the table in a diverse range of areas.

'We can figure this out together'

In the words of our Ogimaa Kwe Chief Leslee White-eye who recently spoke at the King's College commencement address, "Your voice, your actions, your enacting of a vision could bring all the work of centuries of unfortunate colonization to a close. We can figure this out together".


Ramona Sault

Member of Chippewa of the Thames First Nation

Ramona Sault has worked with urban Indigenous communities throughout her career both in professional and voluntary roles developing and delivering policies and programs. She resides in London and works as General Manager at Thunderbird Trust in Chippewa of the Thames First Nation.