Student Voices is a WOA blog feature that presents the experiences and viewpoints of current Arts students. Through their posts, you’ll experience the creativity and passion of our students as they present glimpses into student life. The views and opinions expressed within these posts are solely those of the authors.
If you caught my last post, you know that it was about safe spaces on campus. It ended with the idea that being together and forming relationships is natural law — it is our nationhood. Without nationhood, what do any of us have? Nothing. My Cree relations say that we would have nothing.
I love traveling — I’m a sun-chaser for sure — and I am fortunate to have spent November reading week playing on Hawai’ian sky, land and water. As I type the traditional spelling of the name “Hawai’i,” I am surprised that Microsoft Word recognizes the spelling as “correct.” No squiggly red or green underlines. And I’m surprised because so many names have been changed to suit settlers.
Names of places, people and lands continue to be Anglicized, westernized — we have all become products of colonization. Hawai’i with the apostrophe is the indigenous spelling of the name; Hawaii spelled without the apostrophe is the colonized version. I am so in love with the spirit of native Hawai’ian names and am saddened by the lack of our own indigenous names here in Edmonton, and more specifically, the lack on campus.
Names matter. Native names matter. Changing names is a colonial construct. Changing names is strange and powerful in that it strips away spirit from that place, and in turn, from the people.
Before Edmonton was officially named “Edmonton,” its name was amiskwaciy-wâskahikan or ᐊᒥᐢᑲᐧᒋᕀᐋᐧᐢᑲᐦᐃᑲᐣ. That’s Cree for “Beaver Hills House.” The first is written in Standard Roman Orthography and the other is in Cree Syllabics.
As an English major who is always thinking about and embodying language so that a relationship can be made with that language, I’m interested in breaking open and working with these names. I understand these “namings” to be a way to control a thing or an idea that leaves no room for spirit.
There is little or no seduction in many names. Since we require art in order to breathe, what do we have without the seductive quality in words?
In searching a word’s origin, its etymology, we can understand better the “who and when” that formed that word, perhaps leading us to a place of understanding on why that word became that word. I gave the example of amiskwaciy-wâskahikan. But we are made to call this place Edmonton — after a borough in England — rather than its true name that it held for thousands of years. How odd.
So there I was in Hawai’I, living and loving among all of the indigenous names that stayed put. Aloha Spirit is alive in these names and extends beyond: from human to human to tree to sky to water… Hawai’ians are proud of *Aloha.
I wonder about the Cree equivalent — Wahkohtowin. I wonder and wish for spirit to be renewed with names and for us to be renewed to one another. I wish for the spirit to be renewed to the land so that the spirit can return to the people — to all people — who inhabit these lands. I want us to live Wahkohtowin as Hawai’ians live Aloha. I want us to take back names.
*Aloha: affection, peace, compassion, mercy
*Wahkohtowin: “everything is related.” It is one of the basic principles of Cree Natural Law passed through language, song, prayer, and storytelling. The elders explain that by following the teachings of Wahkohtowin individuals, communities and societies are healthier.