Mi'kmaq activist hopes for 'baby steps' in correcting 'Mic Mac' moniker

Mic Mac Mall — an offensive name on a well-known place. Former Halifax poet laureate Rebecca Thomas meets Rosanna meet to discuss the importance of correcting the name.
Rebecca Thomas thinks the Mic Mac Mall should change its name from the mispronunciation of Mi'kmaq. (Zoe Tennant/CBC)

Originally published on Oct. 21, 2018.

Rebecca Thomas's dad was called a "Mic Mac Indian" in the residential school he attended. Sometimes, the incorrect pronunciation still slips into his sentences.

Thomas would correct her father to the correct way to say Mi'kmaq: "mee-gmaw."

"He'd be like, 'Oh right, sorry child,'" she said.

It's part of an ongoing battle to encourage everyone to say the name correctly — everyone from Thomas's Mi'kmaw father, to people in Nova Scotia, to well-known institutions like the Mic Mac Mall in Dartmouth, N.S.

Rebecca Thomas (right) says updating the signage would give people less of a crutch to mispronounce the name. (Zoe Tennant/CBC)

"It's frustrating," Thomas, a Mi'kmaw activist and former poet laureate of Halifax told Unreserved host Rosanna Deerchild. "I don't think it hurts — it's more like, 'Seriously?'

"If you say, 'Hi, my name is Craig,' and they go, 'Greg, it's nice to meet you,' you stop and you correct them. That doesn't seem to be the case here," she explained.

Earlier this summer, Mic Mac Mall general manager Tamitha Oakley, said that while the mall was getting a $55M facelift, the name would not be changed. 

With the mispronunciation of Mi'kmaq on the mall, street signs and even a nearby lake, it makes it more difficult for Thomas and others advocating for the correct pronunciation to get it to stick.

"People will continue to say it incorrectly as long as they have incorrect versions of it all over the place to kind of validate the pronunciation."

'We're here all year round'

Thomas said multiple levels of government have to step in to make the name changes, but said one side needs to step up and act first. There are plenty of ways the governments could go to rename the places, she said — not just the correct spelling.

"I don't think we want a Mi'kmaq Mall," she said. "You don't necessarily have to change the name to Mi'kmaq, to the people, but understanding that the word you're using now is incorrect."

With another Mi'kmaq History Month well underway, Thomas said it's a great time to think critically about the incorrect pronunciation. But it's not the only time to think about it.

"We're here all year round, so we are existing in and outside of Mi'kmaq History Month," she said. "We can do baby steps here."

Click 'listen' above to hear the full interview.