OTTAWA — The council of Beckwith Township near Ottawa is proposing to change the name of a private road that includes a derogatory term for Indigenous women after months of controversy and over the objections of the road owners.
Reeve Richard Kidd says he’s confident the council will pass the proposed bylaw on Dec. 1 to change Squaw Point Road to Monarch Lane.
“It’s a private road. If If this was a public road, if this is a township road that we owned, we would have changed this years ago,” he said.
Colleen Gray, a Metis artist living in Beckwith Township, said the term was once not derogatory but it became so when European soldiers used it to refer to Indigenous women in a negative way.
“The word, when I speak it out of my mouth, makes me feel a little sick inside,” she said.
“It’s a very ugly word.”
Kidd said it’s the first time the township has sought to change the name of a private road.
“We didn’t realize that we had to pass a bylaw on a private road to change (its name),” he said. “We thought, ‘We don’t own it.’ Like, it’s not our property.”
The council is moving forward with the change against the wishes of the two owners of the road, said Kidd.
“These two individuals own the land. They signed a document for us saying they didn’t want (the road name) to change,” he said.
The Canadian Press was unable to reach either of the road owners. Minutes from a township council meeting in September say one of the owners wanted to keep the name “for various reasons including the historic value he wishes not be lost in the community.”
Gray said the word has roots in the systemic racism that is a huge problem in Canada.
“It hurts a minority, every time it’s used, and so for people to fight for the right to use that word. I don’t understand it,” she said.
The federal government said in September it will change the name of a mountain and trail in Alberta that use the word, adding the name has been a concern for Indigenous groups and Parks Canada for some time.
Maureen Bostock has been advocating for the Beckwith road name change since April as a member of a group called Lanark County Neighbours for Truth and Reconciliation.
“This is a word that is associated with the violence against Indigenous women that has gone on for 200 years in this area and all throughout Canada,” she said. “It’s a very very offensive name. It’s demeaning. It denies the role of Indigenous women have in their own communities as leaders.”
She said many Indigenous women have experienced residential schools, where they were sexually and physically assaulted and this word was used against them as a racial slur.
There are school buses travelling down that road twice a day, she said. “How on earth can we say we are committed as a society to reconciliation when children are still learning about (that offensive word),” she said. “Because the schoolyard again becomes a place where that racist slur gets used.”
Residents on the road say they are frustrated over the delay in granting their request to change the name, after the private road owners opposed the move, claiming during a township council meeting in September there was “historic value” in the current name.
Kim Watson, a member of the residents’ association, says they voted on the issue and asked to change the name in August.
She said their request was sent to Beckwith Township council and then was forwarded to the upper-tier government of Lanark County. The county sent the request back because the township has the authority to make the change on its own.
“It was like a pass-the-buck thing,” Watson said. “We’re sort of stalled.”
Watson was a member of the committee that organized the name change and went door to door getting recommendations for new names.
“We chose Monarch Lane for the monarch butterfly because it’s been struggling this last while,” she said. “We want (the name) to get a change. It’s well past time.”
Kidd said most private roads in the area are owned by road associations, comprising multiple landowners, but this road is owned by two people and there are 25 people that own properties, cottages and houses on the road and have the right to use it.
Bostock’s group proposed changing the road name to Anishinaabekwe Point Road.
“It’s a respectful way to address Indigenous women in this area,” she said.
The council is choosing Monarch Lane instead: the residents who have to change their addresses prefer it.
“It’s what the ambulance uses. the fire department uses,” Kidd said. “I believe that name would be very easy for people to pronounce, to make it identifiable.”