Indigenous lawyer led push to rename Sask.'s Killsquaw Lake to honour Cree women who died in 19th century

'Kikiskitotawânawak Iskêwak' means 'We honour the women' in the Cree language and is now the new name of a group of lakes near Unity, Sask.

New name Kikiskitotawânawak Iskêwak means 'we honour the women'

Dancers Melissa and River Lily Wuttunee were at the naming ceremony along with lawyer Kellie Wuttunee. (David Shield/CBC)

A chance encounter has led to a new name for a small group of lakes near Unity, Sask., that until Tuesday had a questionable title.

Kellie Wuttunee got lost as she was driving to her home on the Red Pheasant Cree Nation, about 30 kilometres south of North Battleford, last year.

As she searched Google Maps, she was horrified to learn that the lake she was parked nearby was named Killsquaw Lake.

When she arrived at her destination, Wuttunee started phoning other people in her community, asking why this lake, located only 20 kilometres away from her home, bore such a horrific name.

After speaking to an elder, she discovered the name commemorated a massacre where a group of Cree women were killed by Blackfoot soldiers more than 100 years ago.

Wuttunee, a lawyer with the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women Circle Corp., knew that the name needed to change.

Chief Sylvia Weenie was on the advisory board of elders that came up with the name Kikiskitotawânawak Iskêwak Lakes, which in Cree means 'we honour the women.' (David Shield/CBC)

For more than a year, she consulted elders and cultural figures to find a way to come up with a solution.

Ultimately, the new name given to the lake — which became official Tuesday — is Kikiskitotawânawak Iskêwak Lakes, which in Cree means "we honour the women."

"To properly respect and honour First Nations women, we can no longer have degrading geographic names in Saskatchewan," Wuttunee said Tuesday. 

"Even if unintentional, the previous name was harmful. By changing the name, we are giving a voice to the ones who are silenced," said Wuttunee, who has worked on the missing and murdered Indigenous women file.

"Names are powerful. They inform our identity."

Sylvia Weenie, chief of the Stoney Knoll First Nation, was brought in as a cultural adviser on the project. She's happy the process was led by a woman.

"As caregivers and providers for our nation, we are the backbone of our nations," she said. "It was truly amazing to have the women come together and keep it going. It is important to them."

The small group of lakes, just southeast of Unity, is now named Kikiskitotawânawak Iskêwak Lakes. (Google Maps)

After the name was approved, Wuttunee made an official nomination for the name change to the provincial government.

"This change will recognize and honour the Cree women who lost their lives in this area in the 19th century with a name that better reflects the language and culture of those being commemorated," said Gene Makowsky, minister of Parks, Culture and Sport, in a news release. 

There are around 14,000 official names of places, parks, geographic features and reserves across the province.