More than a year after members of a First Nation in Manitoba and a nearby rural municipality first met to rename a street in their community that commemorated the history of colonialism, the new road sign will be unveiled.
The gravel road south of Highway 59 near Libau, Man., formerly known as Colonization Road, will be known as Reconciliation Road as of Monday.
The renaming comes following meetings between Brokenhead Ojibway Nation Chief Deborah Smith, Mayor Debbie Fiebelkorn of the rural municipality of St. Clements and members of both communities.
Smith said the conversation about renaming colonial monuments isn’t new for First Nations. That first meeting in September 2020 was sparked by a band member who brought the issue to the council table.
She said she’s happy everyone involved decided to work together on the issue.
“It’s definitely a step in the right direction,” she said.
“For Brokenhead to have our neighbouring RM work with us on the removal of the name Colonization Road is something that’s significant, because colonization has been a very painful history for Indigenous people and there’s no other way that I could describe that.
“Speaking as an Indigenous woman, we’ve all experienced first-hand the impacts of colonization…. And this is an opportunity to provide a step forward at a time when we talk a lot about reconciliation in this country.”
Fiebelkorn said it was a good learning experience for her and the other members of the rural municipality who were involved in the process.
“It taught our council a lot about what is going on in the world and how we have to look at one another and be good neighbours and work together on some of these really, really tough issues that are coming forward,” she said.
Fiebelkorn said she’s lived in the community all her life and until now didn’t realize how much she didn’t know about the racism that Indigenous people faced in the place where she grew up.
“We were all kids and we all went to school together, and in my mind there was no difference between us,” she said.
“And when I’m hearing all these bad or not very nice things about what happened and how people are treated, it just kind of takes me aback some days.”
Smith said she’s found that’s a common experience for non-Indigenous people — and having those enlightening conversations is key to advancing reconciliation.
“I think that that’s fundamental, because one of the aims of reconciliation is … to educate folks about the real history and to hear it from Indigenous people,” she said.
“I just think that my experience growing up in Canada and then growing up on a First Nations reserve is that those histories were not part of the mainstream education. We were … absent from that narrative.”
Both Smith and Fiebelkorn said they’re looking forward to being able to work together on other issues in the community.
That partnership — and the newly renamed road — will be celebrated at an event on Monday. New signage and a plaque will be placed on the road near the entrance to the Trans Canada Trail.
The rural municipality of St. Clements is located about 40 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg.