Nfld. & Labrador

Red Indian Lake name change not a done deal after all

"It has been necessary to pause" the name change in order to consult with residents, reads a media release issued Thursday.

Newfoundland and Labrador government putting name change on hold to consult with residents

Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Lisa Dempster initially called the motion pushing for the renaming of the lake 'a proud day.' However, the process is now being suspended in order for all residents to be consulted on the issue. (CBC)

After criticism, including concerns over a lack of consultation, the Newfoundland and Labrador government won't push through renaming Red Indian Lake after all. 

Following feedback from area residents, Indigenous Affairs Minister Lisa Dempster told reporters Thursday afternoon, she and Premier Andrew Furey had another meeting with Indigenous leaders.

"There was consensus that given the interest, and we want to let people know their voices were heard, that we would just take some time to pause right now and reflect," she said.

Dempster will now organize a consultation process so residents can weigh in on renaming the central Newfoundland lake, near Buchans.  

A joint statement Thursday morning announcing the decision to put the name change on hold was signed by:

  • Premier Andrew Furey.
  • Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Lisa Dempster.
  • Nunatsiavut President Johannes Lampe.
  • Innu Nation Grand Chief Etienne Rich.
  • NunatuKavut community council President Todd Russell.
  • Miawpukek First Nation Sagamaw Mi'sel Joe.
  • Qalipu First Nation Chief Brendan Mitchell.

A motion was introduced in the House of Assembly on April 21 to rename the lake Wantaqo'ti Qospem, which means "peaceful lake" in Mi'kmaw.

At the time, Dempster called it "a proud day," and said it marked a step toward re-examining similar names across the province.

Mi'sel Joe, longtime chief of the Miawpukek First Nation, suggested Red Indian Lake, said Premier Andrew Furey. (Garrett Barry/CBC)

"I believe our heart was in the right place. Most folks would know we have the remains down at The Rooms of the last two known Beothuk, Demasduit and Nonosabasut," Dempster said.

The name change precedes plans to return the remains of a Beothuk couple, Nonosabasut and Demasduit, to the area after being held in Scotland for nearly 200 years. Dempster said it was Sagamaw Mi'sel Joe of the Miawpukek First Nation who championed the cause.

Premier Andrew Furey said at the time it was done in consultation with Indigenous leaders throughout the province, and that Joe picked the new name of lake.

Dempster said Red Indian Lake is being considered as the final resting place of Demasduit and Nonosabasut, but there was consensus among Indigenous leaders the name was not appropriate. She said Wantaqo'ti Qospem was agreed upon by Indigenous leaders, which is why the province moved forward with the change.

"Since that time there's been a high volume of feedback, and I've actually read most of them," Dempster said. 

Name change fostered 'mistrust'

Joe told CBC News on Thursday he's OK with renaming the lake something else, and the idea came about while looking for a peaceful place for a monument to Nonosabasut and Demasduit along the shore. The monument was designed by a young Mi'kmaw girl, Joe said, adding the process has had Mi'kmaq involvement the whole way through.

Regardless of the disagreement over what the lake should be called, Joe said, the bigger picture is getting the provincial government thinking about the history of Indigenous people.

"We've been in a cellar for 500 years. If we had tried this 30 years ago it would have never happened. Now we're out of the cellar, we're doing things, we're driving our own bus and for the first time in our history, for me, I'm seeing a premier speaking our language," he said.

"Even though it's two words, nevertheless it's our language. To me that's an incredible achievement."

Natasha Jones, a member of the Qalipu First Nation, calls Buchans Junction, near Red Indian Lake, home. She's upset the provincial government didn't consult with locals about changing the lake's name. (CBC)

Fred Thorne, owner of Red Indian Lake Outfitting, also told CBC News in an interview on Wednesday he was bewildered the change was going to be made with no consultations with people from the area. 

"Communities have been built around the lake. There's a strong history with the lake," he said.

"Being an Aboriginal and being in the Qalipu band, still it's inappropriate to not have included the members of these communities, keeping in mind that these communities are considered Mi'kmaq communities."

Michael O'Brien of Buchans had started a petition to halt the name change ahead of Thursday's announcement. In an interview on Wednesday, O'Brien told CBC News he started the petition because nobody in his area knew the change was coming, and didn't have a say in what the new name would be.

"No one in the area, and I later learned no Indigenous locals, was part of the discussions. It was just a top down decision," he said.

"People are frustrated. They're upset that they were not involved, or contacted or had any idea a discussion was happening until it came as a seemingly final decision."

While Furey referenced the name change as an "an important symbol, albeit a symbol, in the path of reconciliation," Natasha Jones of Buchans Junction, an active member of the Qalipu First Nation, said it strained the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in the area.

"They thought the Indigenous members locally knew about the decision and were part of it and left them out. And so local Indigenous people were having to defend themselves and say we weren't part of the conversation," said Jones.

"Everybody locally was left out, and so there was a lot of mistrust and there was some name calling," she said.

A timeline has not yet been established for the consultation process.

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