The Snuneymuxw First Nation says the names of B.C. Ferries’ newest ships continue decades of discrimination because they do not use the nation’s language.
The two vessels are among several the corporation has rolled out over the past year to service shorter routes along B.C.’s coast.
Some of them are covered in artwork by Indigenous artists, others have Indigenous names chosen after consultation with Indigenous people.
But the Snuneymuxw say the wrong people were consulted for the newest ferries, the Island Gwawis and the Island Kwigwis, which were announced as replacement vessels for the Nanaimo-Gabriola Island route, in Snuneymuxw territory.
Both are named using words from the Kwak̓wala language spoken by the Kwakwaka’wakw people, whose territory reaches from north Vancouver Island to parts of the Central Coast and smaller islands such as Quadra and Cormorant. Gwawis means “raven of the sea” and kwigis means “eagle of the sea.”
But the Snuneymuxw are Coast Salish people who speak Hul’q’umi’num’.
Snuneymuxw Chief Mike Wyse says it’s insulting that the ferries are named in a language from another territory.
“Where [they] take off in Nanaimo is one of our ancient village sites. We’ve got a specific claim on that territory and for them to overstep that acknowledgement is very disrespectful,” he said.
He says his council had been in talks with B.C. Ferries to try to improve their relationship. There are four ferry terminals in Snuneymuxw territory, and a statement from the nation says in operating those terminals, B.C. Ferries has “caused significant negative impacts,” and “infringed on our Snuneymuxw Treaty of 1854.”
Wyse says the nation and ferry corporation are working on signing a memorandum of understanding (MOU) that acknowledges past harm and sets a plan for how the parties will work together in the future.
B.C. Ferries says it did invite Snuneymuxw and other nations to help with ferry naming. Several Kwakwaka’wakw nations did participate.
Wyse says he told the corporation they wanted to sign an MOU first.
In a statement, B.C. Ferries said the names of its Island Class ships “are not related to the territories or routes on which they may operate.”
“The ships are identical, standardized and interoperable. They will be moved around the fleet as operational necessity dictates.”
In the news releases announcing the ferry names, the corporation said the ships “will allow for the Nanaimo Harbour-Gabriola Island route to be serviced by two Island Class vessels.”