“Nakota Isga” means “the people.” “Anirniq” is an Inuit word for breath, the life that is in all things. And “tastawiyiniwak” for the Cree is a term for “the In-between” people, those who move freely between gender roles.
Soon, these could be the names for areas that Edmontonians now know by far more prosaic names: Ward 1, Ward 2 and Ward 3.
Last spring, city councillors began considering proposed changes to the shape and population of its 12 municipal voting districts, breaking up some of the wards that had more residents.
The plan even included new names. The first plan saw Wards 1 to 12 becoming A to L, then that changed to more geographically representative names, like North and South, Jasper Place and Scona.
But in mid-June, council decided to move into another direction, choosing Indigenous names that would have meaning for the community.
Edmonton city councillors will begin discussions on the recommended names on Monday. The bylaw with the new boundaries and names must be passed by Dec. 31 in order to be in effect for the next municipal election in October 2021. The public will have a chance to weigh in. The city plans to have a legislated 60-day petition period prior to the bylaw returning to council on Dec. 7 for votes in second and third reading.
Terri Suntjens, director of Indigenous Initiatives at MacEwan University, was one of the people who encouraged council to choose Indigenous ward names.
She became one of the co-chairs of the city’s Indigenous Naming Committee. Suntjens says the names were chosen by a committee with 17 Indigenous women from across Alberta in an accelerated six-week process.
The ward names come from nine Indigenous groups: Cree, Dene, Inuit, Blackfoot, Anishinaabe, Michif (Métis), Mohawk (Michel Band), Sioux and Papaschase.
“Edmonton is a gathering place for all nations and so we wanted to ensure that we weren’t heavily focused on Cree,” Suntjens said. “For instance, we wanted to make sure that we were very open and inclusive in bringing together many different people that could share knowledge with us and that are represented in this space as well.”
The women on the committee came from Treaty 6, 7 and 8 as well as Inuit and Métis communities.
The meetings and decision-making process were grounded in tradition and ceremony, Suntjens said.
“On Aug. 27, four of our committee members who are carriers lifted their pipes in gifting our names to the city of Edmonton,” she said. ” It was such a meaningful process and it’s not done yet because we still have a number of ceremonies that need to be completed to honour and bless and give thanks for this process that we did over over the summer.”
English speakers may be daunted at how to pronounce the proposed ward names. Suntjens says the committee is recording videos with elders to teach people how to say them. s
Suntjens said adoption of the names is an important way for Indigenous people to acknowledged and represented.
“Often times we’re not visible,” she said. “Often times there is so much negative pieces or stereotypes or biases that are out there about us.
“And it’s time that we can share about the beautiful-ness of our culture and our history and our language in ways that will educate others.”