Two weeks ago it seemed an unlikely bet that the B.C. government would accede to the request by shíshálh Nation to change the official name of Madeira Park to salalus. The community had spoken: they did not want the change.
They had good arguments on their side. The name Madeira Park was well established and had historical significance that still resonated with the descendants of the mixed Portuguese-Indigenous pioneers who settled there over a century ago.
Last week’s vandalism obliterated the effect of those reasonable appeals and shifted the focus completely. The actions of “a very ignorant few,” as Chief Warren Paull described them, made big headlines in Vancouver, brought down condemnation from cabinet ministers in Victoria, and surrendered to shíshálh Nation, as the injured party, all the moral high ground. The province will now look at the shíshálh name-change request through the lens of not caving in to racist intimidation.
So yes, the night scrawlers who declared war last week on totem poles, highway signs and proper English have almost certainly guaranteed that Madeira Park will soon be officially renamed salalus.
By painting the word “conquered” on a road sign, they engineered the defeat of their own cause, assuming the preservation of Madeira Park as the community’s official name is their cause.
In the case of the banner strung between the school’s two welcome poles, the cause is apparently a broader one. It has to be, because no statues of the listed historical figures can be found on shíshálh Nation territory. The threat to topple “ur totem’s” if “George/Stanley/or John A” are manhandled must be aimed at B.C. First Nations in general, although no one, Indigenous or otherwise, appears to be calling yet for the removal of George Gibson, George Vancouver or Lord Frederick Stanley, and it was Victoria city council that removed John A. Macdonald’s statue from city hall two years ago.
“We try to make sense of the messaging, and it’s really not possible,” School District No. 46 superintendent Patrick Bocking summed up the situation in an interview with CBC News. “It’s just not carefully thought through, and of course it seems to be coming from a really unfortunate attitude about how things are worked through in a community.”
You can say that again, Mr. Bocking. And while we’re at it, we should all be setting aside a little time to work on our pronunciation of salalus.