Hon. Lillian Eva Dyck:
Honourable senators, as people who spend a great deal of their time delivering speeches, I believe it is beyond redundant to state that words are powerful. Words can affect us in many ways: They can be good, bad or ugly.
Kellie Wuttunee, a lawyer with the Saskatchewan Aboriginal Women’s Circle Corporation, experienced this truth first-hand when she found herself lost by a group of lakes near Unity, Saskatchewan, last year. As she searched Google Maps to find her way, she was horrified, angered and bewildered to learn the lake she was parked by was named Killsquaw Lake.
Immediately Ms. Wuttunee began to reach out to elders and others in her community trying to figure out how this lake, located a mere 20 kilometres from her home, came to bear such an ugly name — a name commemorating a massacre where a group of Cree women were killed by Blackfoot soldiers more than 100 years ago.
After an extended period of consultation lasting more than a year, a decision was made to rename the lakes Kikiskitotawânawak Iskêwak Lakes. The Cree words mean, “we honour the women.” An official nomination for the name change was made by Ms. Wuttunee to the provincial government, who accepted it without hesitation and formally approved it November 20.
The importance of this renaming is best iterated by Ms. Wuttunee who said:
Words are powerful; names are powerful. They inform our identity, and with actions like these, we are reminding each other and telling the world that we can learn from our mistakes and move forward together. . . . Even if unintentional, the previous name was harmful. By changing the name, we are giving a voice to the ones who are silenced. . . . [and] to properly respect and honour First Nations women, we can no longer have degrading geographic names in Saskatchewan.
Many were heartened by how the project was spearheaded by women. Chief Sylvia Weenie from the Stoney Knoll First Nation, and cultural adviser on the project, stated, “As caregivers and providers for our nation, we are the backbone of our nations. . . . It was truly amazing to have the women come together and keep it going. It is important to them.”
This name change is especially important for future First Nations children to learn of their history in a positive light. I wish to thank Kellie Wuttunee, Chief Sylvia Weenie, the elders and all others involved in this process. Thank you.