Tuesday, 28 February 2012

What’s In a Name? The Answer: Colonization/Reclamation

              The past couple of weeks have led to myself becoming more immersed in the Anishinaabe side of my heritage. An important and what I deem influential, individual left our world and began a journey to the spirit world. With him, went a man who I have come to respect and admire for the work on reclaiming and teaching Anishinaabe ways to not only members of my own community, but also Anishinaabe people throughout the nation’s traditional territory.
                The concern over loss was carried over into my participation at this week’s Health Policy Forum, which is being held by the Chiefs of Ontario. This ‘loss’ progressed to a view of the passing of our elders and with it the loss of traditional teachings and the language. This stuck out for me, I am not quite sure why.

                One way this was triggered was by how I still have not been developing my ability to more fully learn my other language (Anishinaabe) and why so many communities have begun using language as a reclaiming tool. This then made me think of the story of my own community and the name by which we go by: Hiawatha First Nation. You see, originally the name of my community, in English, is the ‘Mississaugas of Rice Lake.” The name ‘Hiawatha,’ which was electively chosen eventually, was done so because of a visit by a Prince of Wales, whom very much adored the poem Hiawatha. He had visited my community and also found it to be a beautiful place and considered it to be a special place within his heart and thus suggested we switch our name.

                Fast forward to the current time and I will now explain the concern this can have. You see, the name Hiawatha belongs to that of the Huadenshaune. Hiawatha was an important figure in the Haudenshaune confederacy, which had occurred far before European colonization. Thus my community, an Anishinaabe community, now holds the name of a Haudenshaune figure and thus expresses the Haudenshaune language. This is of concern to me as, when we cut through the cloudy layer of misrepresentation we see colonialism in full force. It is a symbol of the assumption that all Indigenous people are the same, that our language and our original names are of unimportance, and contributes to a key aspect of assimilation - the loss of one’s own language. In western political theory there is a belief that in order to be considered unique and sovereign you must have territorial claims that encompass centuries if not millennium, a distinct set of cultural practices, as well as a distinct language – you remove one or more of these and it contributes to the claim that distinction does not exist.
               This is of concern and I am happy to see a move by many Indigenous nations to begin reusing their traditional language and names of places – including their community name. My own community has our traditional name posted on signs, yet we continue to be ‘legally’ viewed as Hiawatha First Nation. I myself, over the last two years, have begun to revert back to referring to my community's traditional name as where I am from, whether in writing or speaking – but my status card says Hiawatha First Nation.

                Thinking of all this led me to the following question: What is keeping my community from switching everything back over to our original name? Is it because my community is not ready or is it possibly because many in my community still know very little of our Anishinaabe language? Is it because there is more ‘short haired’ minded people then ‘long haired’ minded people? Is it because of financial consquences? I do not know what the answer is and is why I post the question (although I do not think it is a short haired vs. long haired since I do qualify myself as a short haired and I am clearly advocating for this change).
                In conclusion, I would like to express to my wonderful community that perhaps it is time we revert back to the Anishinaabe nation’s language? I would very much like to see it not only on our signs but on our documents and acknowledged by the provincial government of Ontario and the Federal government of Canada. It is time for us to reclaim ourselves as ‘Mississaugas of Rice Lake’ – it is our time to proudly state we are from the Anishinaabe community of MANOMINIIKING!!! Why? Because RENAMING IS RECLAIMING!

(NOTE: I have no issue with 'bilingualism' - I welcome english translations on the name and future changes that I hope to see redone in the Anishinaabe tongue - this post is also to bring forth discussion on the topic)


  1. Thanks for an articulate, thought provoking article.

  2. Thank You Rob for your comment, it is much appreciated and I am glad it is being looked at as thought provoking!