I wrote this article for the Vancouver Observer in response to the proposal to use the First Nations’ name, Xwayxway, in place of Stanley Park. My article is mostly a romp through history and the many cultural shifts and name changes these shifts have caused.
Anyway, here she goes…
Xwayxway (Not Stanley Park)
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul
It’s been a bad couple of weeks for the old British Empire in Canada. Even the Queen’s visit seemed to be generating undue negative reaction, culminating with accusations that Michaelle Jean’s husband, Jean-Daniel Lafond, had suggested the Queen find accommodation in a local hotel (rather than Rideau Hall) whilst visiting Ottawa. Would Motel 6 do? And famously here, there was the suggestion of doing away with Lord Stanley’s eponymously named park in favour of the traditional Xwayxway. What’s next? No more tea at the Empress?
A most interesting case for name changing is Istanbul. That ancient city founded as Byzantium by the Greeks during their heyday in the 600’s BC, it took the name Constantinople when Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire there in 330 AD. It remained the centre of the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire) until the Ottoman Turks sacked it in 1453, and among other renovations (such as adding minarets to the Hagia Sophia), the name Constantinople got the works and the city was renamed Istanbul. Its stunning Hagia Sophia was first a Christian Church, then an Islamic Mosque, now it’s a secular UNESCO world heritage site.
Journey of Man
Geneticist Spencer Wells has been analyzing human DNA from people in all regions of the world and has traced a journey of man that starts in Africa and in one unbroken lineage leads us around the world in less than 2,000 generations. All the human diversity we see today descends from a single man who lived in Africa around 60,000 years ago.
A very recent discovery, by Western Washington University linguistics professor Edward Vajdof, reveals a linguistic link between the Old World and the New. Vajdof has discovered an ancient language connection between the Ket people of Western Siberia and the language family of Na-Dene, (which includes Tlingit, Gwich’in, Dena’ina, Koyukon, Navajo, Carrier, Hupa, Apache and about 45 other languages). This discovery gives Wells’ DNA studies new meaning. We are not just connected genetically, but also culturally.
As I write this, a First Nations’ delegation is headed to Moscow to meet their 10,000 year old linguistic cousins. The journey continues.
On 30 June, I was fortunate enough to be at the official opening ceremonies for Klahowya Village in Stanley Park. The village, located near Malkin Bowl, features an interpretation centre, a re-skinned Stanley Park choo-choo called the Spirit Catcher train, and a chance for local First Nations peoples to put their face forward in the city. We were treated to native singing, dancing, feasting, and long, long speeches of thanks and gratitude.
Strolling around the “village”, I chatted with some First Nations’ folks selling handmade crafts. We chatted affably for a while until a reference was made to the Union Jack as a “Butcher Apron” and some disparaging comments were made about the Queen. My thoughts, “that was uncalled for”. So, while it’s intellectual suicide to trash other cultures, the old predominant culture of Canada, the English, seems to be fair game.
I have only to go back two generations to find myself in the moors of Lancashire and Yorkshire, specifically in Bradford, England. I’ve never visited Bradford, but from what I’ve gathered, my forebears were wise to get out. It’s a dirty bleak industrial town, so I have great thanks that I live in Vancouver and not Bradford. Incidentally, since my grandfather’s childhood there, it now sports a surprisingly large number of mosques—evidence of other journeys. In any case, whatever can be done with Bradford, it will never have anything as wondrous as my Stanley Park. Whatever we call it, Stanley Park is our jewel to the world. It is a unique crossroad for many, many human journeys.