A B.C. councillor is facing growing criticism for his comments around the renaming of Powell River.
During a live broadcast of the city’s Jan. 30 committee of the whole meeting, Coun. Jim Palm used a made-up name,”Wakawana,” to refer to what Powell River could potentially be renamed.
“Step one is ‘Are you in favour of a name change?’ Yes or no. That’s simple. You don’t convolute it with ‘Wakawana’ or whatever name comes out of Tla’amin. You just simply ask the question and get a response. Yes or no, and then we have a direction,” Palm said.
Tla’amin Nation denounced the comment Monday (Feb. 5), saying Palm had belittled and mocked the Nation’s language and ancestral place names.
“We cannot let this racist slur stand. This comment is wholly inappropriate coming from an elected official and contributes to the normalization of racist remarks that make reconciliation harder than it has to be,” said Hegus John Hackett, the chief of Tla’amin.
Tla’amin executive Coun. Losa Luaifoa said the Nation doesn’t take a mockery of its language lightly, “especially from a long-time schoolteacher and elected official.”
“Our people were taught to be ashamed of our language through the exact behaviours demonstrated by Councillor Palm and worse. This has resulted in the near loss of our language. We are working so hard to reclaim our pride and fluency in ʔayʔaǰuθəm and call on Tla’amin people and our allies to keep up their work to restore and draw attention to the beauty of our language.”
The City of Powell River released a statement the following day in response to Tla’amin. In it, the city apologized to the Nation, adding it wishes to “continue serious conversations about furthering all aspects of reconciliation.”
“Council is committed to fostering a positive and respectful relationship with Tla’amin Nation and work with all Councillors to understand and address the impacts of colonialism and stresses the importance of appropriate language.”
Now, the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs is calling on the City of Powell River to “address the situation and put a put an end to these disrespectful bullying tactics carried out in public meetings with no shame or remorse from these decision-makers.”
“Sadly, these ignorant and bombastic acts of racism, that occur everyday, have become acceptable in today’s society and results in the normalization of casual racism,” said Grand Chief Stewart Philip, president of UBCIC.
The union says it also sees a key role for the province to work in partnership with First Nations to accelerate the commitment in the Declaration Act Action Plan to review the principles and processes that guide the naming of municipalities and regional districts and “evolve practices to foster reconciliation in local processes.”
I stand with Tla’amin Nation and fully support their leadership and community. I understand that Councillor Palm has issued an apology through the media, and I am hopeful that he will learn from the work that the community, City and the Nation has already put in since 2022— Murray Rankin (@MurrayRankinNDP) February 7, 2024
B.C.’s Indigenous Relations Minister Murray Rankin, in a series of posts on X (formerly Twitter) Tuesday, said he stands with Tla’amin Nation, and fully supports their leadership and community.
“I understand that Councillor Palm has issued an apology through the media, and I am hopeful that he will learn from the work that the community, City and the Nation has already put in since 2022.”
Rankin said the city’s name is a constant reminder of the harmful legacy Israel Wood Powell’s actions have had and continue to have.
The city was named after Powell, B.C.’s first superintendent of Indian Affairs. Tla’amin Nation says Powell was one of the chief architects of early colonial policies, including the rise of residential schools.
“The town’s name is a constant reminder of the abuses inflicted on Indigenous children for more than a century, spurring a renaming campaign,” Tla’amin Nation said in its statement.
In spring of 2021, Tla’amin Nation made a request to Powell River council to consider a name change, “in light of the devastating legacy the actions of Israel Powell have had and continue to have on the Tla’amin people.” That fall, the Nation and the city developed a joint-working group to oversee a community conversation about a name change.
The working group released its final report on the engagement process in July of 2022 and, last month, the city tabled strategic priorities including, “Take real steps towards a name change.”
Black Press Media reached out to Palm on Wednesday (Feb. 7). He said he would not be commenting further and referred to a statement he provided to Global News.