Nfld. & Labrador

Red Indian Lake to be given Mi'kmaw name meaning 'peaceful lake'

A lake in central Newfoundland is about to shed part of its past and be given a Mi'kmaw name, Wantaqo'ti Qoespem.

Renaming comes ahead of plans to rebury remains of Beothuk couple nearby

A motion was introduced Wednesday to rename Red Indian Lake, near Buchans, to Wantaqo'ti Qospem, a Mi'kmaw phrase meaning 'peaceful lake.' (Submitted by David Wilcox)

The provincial government has taken the first steps toward renaming a central Newfoundland lake Wantaqo'ti Qospem, which means "peaceful lake" in Mi'kmaw.

A motion was introduced in the House of Assembly on Wednesday to rename Red Indian Lake, near Buchans. The move comes after consultations with Indigenous leaders throughout the province, according to Premier Andrew Furey.

"I think [the name is] not reflective of where we should be in society right now, and it's an important symbol, albeit a symbol, in the path of reconciliation," Furey told reporters Wednesday afternoon.

Chief Mi'sel Joe of the Miawpukek First Nation picked the new name, he said.

The renaming comes ahead of plans to return the remains of a Beothuk couple to central Newfoundland. The remains of Nonosabasut and Demasduit have been held at The Rooms in St. John's since being returned to the province in March 2020, after spending almost 200 years in Scotland. 

Both Nonosabasut and Demasduit were buried by the lake, but their remains were taken by a Scottish explorer.

The plan to return their remains to that land is still being discussed with Indigenous leaders, Furey said, with the lake renaming happening now so as not to hold up that work.

"I think it would be inappropriate for our society to going down that path to placing remains there in an appropriate way when it was still called Red Indian Lake," he said.

Indigenous Affairs and Reconciliation Minister Lisa Dempster called Wednesday "a proud day," and said it marks a step toward re-examining similar names across the province.

"Part of my mandate letter was to look at symbolism and monuments around the province, so that those people who have been here before we have, that they see themselves in our rich history," Dempster said.

Furey's predecessor, Dwight Ball, before leaving office, promised to review colonial monuments and also ditched "Discovery Day" as the name of the June holiday, to be renaming after Indigenous consultations.

Furey said the lake's renaming continues that work, and goes beyond simply changing a name, "not just for change itself, but for education to the public on our Indigenous histories, and the fact that this is a part of changing some of the systemic issues that exist."

Dempster said she was buoyed by positive dialogue between provincial government politicians and Indigenous leaders, about the lake name change 

"This is, I believe, just the beginning," she said.

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