Opinion: Developing a community-driven framework for renaming

Table of Contents

Josh Traptow is the Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Calgary

The act of bestowing a name upon a place is intimate, and to many, sacred.

In fact, Calgary as a place has been named, and named again, many times by different people and parties, each with their own intentions, values and visions for this land. The area we know as Calgary today is known as Moh’kinsstis, a Blackfoot word for “elbow,” in reference to the place where the Bow and Elbow rivers meet. This land is also known as Wîchîspa Oyade to the people of Stoney Nakoda Nation, and Guts-ists-i to the people of the Tsuut’ina Nation. The Métis call the Calgary area Otos-kwunee.

As a society, we are increasingly facing big questions around the act of naming and, consequently, renaming. These questions are difficult and inevitable, and they all circle around an age-old quandary – what is in a name? If the names of the places we cherish, frequent and gather are not reflective of our deep history and the fascinatingly diverse society Calgary is today, should those places be renamed to better reflect that diversity? These big questions are what led Heritage Calgary to develop a framework for naming, renaming, commemoration and removal (NRCR).

The process of naming and renaming places, choosing what is commemorated and how commemoration happens is an integral part of today’s environment. Our awareness as a society requires us to make intentional, inclusive and enduring decisions in these circumstances. The goal of this project was to create a community-driven framework for Calgary-based organizations and groups, non-profits, businesses and corporations, to create and implement their own unique NRCR plans. We set out from the beginning to ensure that Indigenous voices were strong in the project’s design and activities.

The result was the development of a handbook outlining the principles and steps required to undertake an NRCR project. Twelve core principles were identified, which community groups need to work through in the context of their projects, including involving the community and people for whom the issue is important; understanding any associated harm with the identified individual, event or practice; and aligning with the values and principles of the community or organization.

The handbook then details an eight-step process to approach the work. The steps include Project Foundations; Organize; Gather Information; Communication for Action; Connections; Recommendation; Advocating for Your Recommendation; and Acknowledgment and Celebration. Handbook users may find the steps are not always be sequential due to the uniqueness of each project. A corresponding checklist and discussion questions are provided for each step.

Additional resources, including key terms as well as “Tips from the Field” – learnings from people who have been there and have completed projects like this before – are also provided. The handbook presents questions that groups will need to answer as they move through their project. It is important to note it does not dictate the answers to those questions; how these questions are answered and how groups should design their own NRCR project depends entirely on their context and the needs of their community.

Those who are interested in learning more about the extensive community engagement and research that guided this historical project, which encompassed three phases of stakeholder engagement including individual interviews, small group discussions and follow-up interviews, may read about the process in our supplementary Final Report.

In 2022, NRCR plans are a big part of this conversation, and the NRCR Handbook provides a community-focused framework that is accessible, achievable and connects people to the resources they will need. Any organization can use the handbook to guide their discussions – no matter their budget, experience, or familiarity with naming and renaming.

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