Weledeh to Wıìlıìdeh? Yellowknife school to change name to reflect traditional spelling

A Yellowknife Catholic school plans to change its name, hoping to correctly reflect local language and traditional spelling.

The school’s name was changed to Weledeh Catholic School in the ‘90s

Weledeh Catholic School is located in Yellowknife. Its current name was adopted in the '90s. (Steve Silva/CBC)

A Yellowknife Catholic school plans to change its name, hoping to correctly reflect local language and traditional spelling.

Originally named St. Patrick Elementary, Weledeh Catholic School was renamed in the 1990s, in an attempt to call the school "something that was a little bit more reflective of the Indigenous culture of this area," said Jenny Reid, the school's principal.

However, the consultant involved in the name change at the time wasn't from the area, and they chose the wrong spelling, she said.

Wıìlıìdeh Yatii is the name of a dialect traditionally spoken by people in and around the communities of Detah, Ndilo, and Yellowknife. The name includes four "i"s and diacritics — symbols placed above or below a letter to change its pronunciation — over the second and fourth "i"s.

Maro Sundberg, a language expert with CBC North's archiving department, said the proper spelling of the word is Wıìlıìdeh, with "wıìlıì" meaning coney fish and "deh" meaning river.

After the misspelling was brought to her attention by an Indigenous-language instructor at the school, Reid got permission from the Yellowknife Catholic School Board to correct the name on Jan. 16.

"I guess I was kind of shocked that this had happened in the first place but, knowing what I know about our history and how things like this can happen, it wasn't completely surprising," she said Monday.

Several spellings

In her research, Reid found a variety of different spellings of the name. She said she's waiting to hear back from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation (YKDFN), to get the group's thoughts.

An interview request submitted to YKDFN wasn't immediately responded to. YKDFN uses the "Weledeh" and "Wıìlıìdeh" versions of the word several times on its website.

"I'm glad that the name is being changed at the school. It's probably about time," former Yellowknives Dene Chief Fred Sangris told the CBC's Mark Hadlari in an interview on Tuesday.

"It's probably important to the community['s] people because their children also go to school there, and there's a history there."

Sangris did not explicitly say which spelling of the word he prefers, instead deferring to Sundberg's expertise.

The territorial government currently uses "Wıìlıìdeh," with diacritics, Marina Devine, a senior cabinet communications advisor for the Department of Executive and Indigenous Affairs, said in an email.

There is also an electoral district in the territory named "Tu Nedhé-Wiilideh" — with no diacritics and one less "i" than the spelling suggested by Devine — which was created by merging two ridings in 2013.

One of those pre-merged ridings was named "Weledeh."

Jenny Reid is the principal of Weledeh Catholic School. (Steve Silva/CBC)

Weledeh Catholic School is holding a community feast on April 17, and there will be a table set up to explain the name change and its process.

There will also be a public meeting on April 24 to get the community's input.

Replacing the school's signage and the like to reflect the change is expected to cost about $5,000, Reid said. There's no firm timeline in place for when the corrected name will come into effect, but Reid said it might happen in time for the next school year.

"I want to respect the people of this area, and I think that acknowledging their culture is great and wonderful, but we need to make sure that we do it appropriately," she said.

"I don't want to rush it. I want to make sure that we have it done right this time."


Steve Silva

Video journalist

Steve Silva is a video journalist for CBC News based in Iqaluit. He has journalism degrees from Ryerson University and Columbia University. He has reported in five provinces and three territories in Canada. He can be reached at:

With files from Mark Hadlari