North

Northwest Territorian? There's no official name for people who live in the N.W.T.

What's in a name? There are a few different terms people use to describe residents of the Northwest Territories, but they’re not official.

People of the North, Northwester and Northwesterner have also been used

Yellowknifer Hendrika Brown says 'Northwest Territorian' is unpleasant as a name. (Steve Silva/CBC)

There is no official name to describe people who live in the Northwest Territories that's recognized by the territorial and federal governments.

Todd Sasaki, a spokesperson for the N.W.T.'s Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs, said in an email that the territorial government doesn't have any official guidelines regarding the territory's demonym.

A demonym is a term describing people living in a certain area — people who live in Manitoba are called Manitobans, for example.

The federal government also confirmed there's no official demonym for N.W.T. residents, but its website lists four English names: Northwest Territorian, People of the North, Northwester and Northwesterner.

Those shouldn't be accepted as official terms, but just a collection of terms that have been used by residents before, according to a statement by Public Services and Procurement Canada spokesperson Charles Drouin.

"The Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage (2nd ed., 2007) notes that 'there is no common term for a resident of the Northwest Territories,' which suggests that no name has ever been established by consultation with the population."

'Way too long and awkward'

"I wouldn't subscribe to any of those [four terms], and I don't think they would do the job," said Bruce Valpy, publisher of Northern News Services Ltd., which has newspapers in the N.W.T. and Nunavut.

Valpy said he sticks to "Northerner" to refer to people in the territory.

However, there is room for misunderstanding with that term — people also refer to those living in Nunavut and Yukon as Northerners.

I don't think it would hurt to have an official term.- Paul Delorey , former MLA

"Territorian" might also confuse some, because that's what inhabitants of Australia's Northern Territory are called.

"Northwest Territorians" was used by former Hay River North MLA Paul Delorey during a 2004 legislative session, according to a territorial government transcript.

"To me, it sounds like it's a little bit more specific to where we come from," he said in a phone interview from Edmonton on Monday.

"I don't think it would hurt to have an official term."

Shawn Savoie of Yellowknife says he would like to see the territory's name changed to something more Indigenous-based. (Steve Silva/CBC)

"It's way too long and awkward," Yellowknife resident Hendrika Brown said regarding "Northwest Territorians."

Brown said she has heard "Northwesterners" used before, but that can be problematic, too: "The Americans say that all the time and they mean, like, Seattle."

Another Yellowknifer, Shawn Savoie, said he has used "Northwest Territorian" before.

"It's not easy," Savoie said with a laugh.

Savoie added that he would "love" to have the name of the territory changed to something that's more Indigenous-based, which in turn would impact the demonym.

It's something that has been proposed before, and it's something that Dene National Chief Norman Yakeleya said should be explored further.

He noted that he prefers the traditional title K'awo instead of chief.

"We seem to not recognize the Indigenous names that are already here in our country," Yakeleya said.

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