Manitoba

Gimli will pull 'colonization' from the names of 4 streets to honour reconciliation

The community of Gimli, Man., is planning to strip the names of four streets that commemorate the history of colonialism.

Committee will propose renamed streets, help municipality recognize Indigenous culture going forward

An effort is underway in the RM of Gimli to rename four roads that include "colonization" in their names. (Submitted by Cody Magnusson)

The rural municipality of Gimli is planning to strip the names of four streets that commemorate the history of colonialism.

Coun. Cody Magnusson brought forward a resolution last week that stated the four roadways containing the word "colonization" are deeply offensive to Indigenous peoples — and called for their renaming.

"I basically said, like, 'We're not waiting anymore.' We're putting this on the next meeting's [agenda]. Let's do this."

His resolution emerged as 1,000 people and counting signed a petition to demand action from the RM of Gimli.

The councillor said that municipal officials and private citizens had both pressed for change in previous years, but it was "tossed on the back burner for one reason or the other."

Magnusson knew the municipal administration was studying the issue. But, he said, last month's discovery of a burial site adjacent to the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, which preliminary findings indicate contain the remains of 215 children, prompted a faster response.

Kamloops tragedy pushed for change locally

"That was certainly kind of a turning point for a lot of these things, not only in our municipality, but across the country to really move forward more of these ideas and actions of reconciliation," Magnusson said.

The RM of Gimli's council voted last week to establish a reconciliation committee, with a mixture of Indigenous and non-Indigenous voices, to explore ways to advance the calls of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Their first order of business is to propose new names for the four roads — North Colonization Road, South Colonization Road, Colonization Close and Colonization Road Arnes — that will instead honour local Indigenous history and the culture and spirit of reconciliation. The proposed renaming will be presented to council for their endorsement. 

Three of the four roads are in the town of Gimli, and the other is east of Arnes.

A Viking statue is pictured in Gimli. Cameron Adams, a member of Berens River First Nation with family ties to Norway House Cree Nation, said Gimli should consider recognizing the life of John Ramsay, who helped some of the early Icelandic settlers to survive. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

Afterwards, the committee will continue to advise the municipality on matters of reconciliation.

Cameron Adams, a member of Berens River First Nation with family ties to Norway House Cree Nation, said he has been asked to sit on the committee.

Adams, who has lived in Gimli for most of his life, said Indigenous people had their cultures oppressed through the process of colonization. He said the word cuts deep, and it shouldn't be celebrated. 

"We could have any other name in the world, but why would we honour colonization?" he asks. 

In recent days, the university student, who is studying education, has spoken with an Indigenous elder who suggested the legacy of John Ramsay could be celebrated.

An Indigenous hunter and fisher, he taught the Icelandic settlers who arrived in the 1870s in what is now Gimli how to hunt and fish, supplying some with moose meat and fish. People say he helped save dozens of people from dying during those first few winters. 

"It's a story of our past, but also something that connected newcomers and Indigenous peoples," Adams said.

"John Ramsay was well-respected and continues to be. That's way better than colonization."

Despite Magnusson stating that some residents have questioned the purpose of the name change, he said he's proud the vast majority of residents in Gimli are on board.

"I think it reflects well on our town that the overwhelming amount of people are in favour of doing these actions."

The RM of St. Clements is in the midst of renaming its own Colonization Road, located in Libau, Man. Council is currently evaluating prospective names and a decision is expected in a few weeks. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ian Froese

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Ian Froese covers provincial politics and its impact for CBC Manitoba. He previously reported on a bit of everything for newspapers. You can reach him at ian.froese@cbc.ca.

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