Mi'kmaw chief calls on P.E.I. government to change name of neighbouring community

Bethany Knockwood says she hopes her young son won’t have to see the name Savage Harbour on a sign in the neighbouring community when he is old enough to read.

Name Savage Harbour no longer acceptable in 2022, chief says

Savage Harbour is located about 13 kilometres from Abegweit First Nation in Scotchfort. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Bethany Knockwood says she hopes her young son won't have to see the name Savage Harbour on a sign in the neighbouring P.E.I. community when he is old enough to read.

So she was pleased Tuesday — on National Indigenous Peoples Day — to hear Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould officially request the provincial government to change the name.

"We are not savages," Gould said in his speech to dozens of people gathered at the Scotchfort reserve.

"Today I am formally calling on the premier and the province of P.E.I. to change the name and get rid of the word 'savage.' It is 2022. Islanders, as I've said before and I always say this, we can do better."

It's a change that is important to Indigenous people, Knockwood said.

"As a Mi'kmaw mother, knowing that he's going to be attending schools and interacting with the neighbouring communities, having the name Savage Harbour changed to something else and having that language removed from his vocabulary and his peers' vocabulary, it's a good move."

Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould says he hates to say the word "savage." (Brian Higgins/CBC)

According to an Acadian history website, a French family was the first one to colonize Savage Harbour in 1725. Like many other North Shore coves and inlets, the bay was well used by Mi'kmaq.

In 1730, the website says, the census enumerator, perhaps at the request of the first white settlers, renamed the place Havre à l'Anguille, respecting the importance of eel to the Mi'kmaq.

The English name, however, remained unchanged.

Now is the time, Gould said.

Bethany Knockwood hopes her son will never have to see the name Savage Harbour. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

"Savage Harbour, Savage Bay, Savage Wharf and the Savage Harbour cottage area. That is hard for me to say. I hate saying that word," he said.

"We invited people to our community. We had a large number of community members outside Abegweit come and meet with us and hear our story, why it's important to challenge the name of Savage Harbour in every capacity. That it is not acceptable in this day and age."

At least one fisherman at Savage Harbour wharf assumed the name referred to rough water conditions. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Some people at the Savage Harbour wharf, who did not want to speak on record, said they'd prefer to keep the name. Some residents said they feel bullied, and worry that a name change could create confusion and expense for local residents and businesses.

One fisherman said he assumed the name refers to rough water conditions, not a slur against Indigenous people.

The Savage Harbour community has written to the province saying they want to be consulted on any name change.

Savage Harbour was first settled in 1725 by a French family, according to an Acadian history website. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Just about any other name will do, Gould said.

"The community itself will respect any name that they choose to change it to. It's not us forcing it on you. It's about understanding who we are as a community and that includes First Nation and non-First Nation communities."

Doreen Jenkins, a member of the Mi'kmaw community who was on hand for Gould's speech, is hopeful everyone can come to an agreement.

"This is becoming so inclusive. Rather than saying, 'Well you did this to us, why are you doing this still in this day and age?' He's saying 'No, we're all friends, all we're going to do is just change the name.' Give it something new."


  • A previous version of this story contained an historic map of Savage Island, a location in western P.E.I. that has since been renamed Oulton's Island, instead of Savage Harbour.
    Jun 22, 2022 2:57 PM AT

With files from Brian Higgins