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Moving mountains: How Bow Valley is taking a stand against a peak with a racist name

“It’s misogynistic, crude, vulgar, etc. and it is a community thing. You know, like so many other things, people have to speak up, like when someone makes an [inappropriate joke] – say something for God’s sake."
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Visible from Canmore and along the Trans-Canada Highway heading west to Banff, but located in the MD of Bighorn territory, the peak has been unofficially known as the derogatory title for decades. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BOW VALLEY – What is in a name?

For mountains and peaks in the Bow Valley, most have names given traditionally from surrounding Indigenous nations during a time before settlers moved to North America, while the more well-known names were brought over to Canada as the country was being settled and colonized with dignitary names being assigned across the valley – and then there is Squaw’s Tit.

Visible from Canmore and along the Trans-Canada Highway heading west to Banff, but located in MD of Bighorn territory, the peak has been unofficially known as the derogatory title for decades.

Recently brought to the attention of municipalities in the area, Canmore lawyer Jude Daniels is leading the charge for change.

“This Peak Project is critically important for a number of reasons," Daniels said in an email to the Outlook. "Let's start with how the fact that we’ve allowed someone to weaponize a peak’s name against women and Indigenous women in particular. That Canmore peak is a lovely little peak and yet, it's been tarnished with a misogynistic and racist informal name.”

Working with another lawyer Tasha Egan, Daniels said the initiative to find a formal name for the Canmore peak began in 2014 and has been a slow process. Even within the past year, two other applications to give a formal name to the peak were submitted to the Alberta government, but both rejected.

“That odious name is clearly unacceptable and absolutely not in keeping with Canmore’s professed values of ‘long term commitment to diversity'," Daniels wrote. "Additionally, a non-offensive formal name being given to that Canmore peak is one more step along the important journey of reconciliation.”

The request to support the name change initiative was brought before Canmore council during the virtual council meeting on Tuesday (Aug. 18).

Canmore Mayor John Borrowman submitted the request and spoke to the problematic nature of the name.

“I think all members of council are familiar with the history of the name … which has certainly been the name people have used since I moved to Canmore in the mid-70s, more than 45 years ago and I did note in my report, it’s clear and evident the name is racist and misogynistic – it’s surprising this hasn’t been addressed in any way before,” Borrowman said during the meeting.

While the mayor acknowledged it was not an official name, and the peak also technically sits in another municipality, he still asked for council's support in giving the peak an official name.

“This [peak] needs a new name brought to it. Whether it is a Stoney name or something else, we have to do better than what we’ve done as a community for decades … I want to reconcile the past and build new relationships for the future,” he said.

Council unanimously supported the initiative with several councillors speaking to the request.

Councillor Joanna McCallum brought up the anecdote of her school-age daughters learning of the name and having to explain to them why it hasn’t been changed yet.

“This is during a time when we are trying to instil in our children a sense of diversity and we are trying to quash racism in [every] dark corner," McCallum said.

"It was sad as a parent to have to explain our community has supported this name for the last numbers of years and I really would like to extend my gratitude to Ms. Daniels for getting the name changed and finding a more suitable and appropriate name change to that feature.”

Councillor Esme Comfort said this is a time to speak out.

“It’s misogynistic, crude, vulgar, etc. and it is a community thing. You know, like so many other things, people have to speak up, like when someone makes an [inappropriate joke] - say something for God’s sake," she said. "I encourage everyone to participate in wanting to get rid of this name and if dirtbag climbers still want to use it, then whatever, but it is up to us to call it out every time we see [and hear] it."

Daniels noted the death of George Floyd in America in May earlier this year has sparked extensive and very important dialogues about racial inequality in Canada and around the world.

“For many of us, we’ve been compelled to think about the implicit biases that we all have, and what we should do about them," she said. "It's my view that many people do actually want to address the systemic racism that has been exposed by Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC) and the Black Lives Matter movement, and as a result, there has been renewed momentum with the quest to find a formal name for the Canmore peak.”

Borrowman also made a point to acknowledge the Town of Canmore's Commitments to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action document, which council accepted in 2017. The goal of accepting the document was to acknowledge Canmore wants to reconcile the past while building new relationships for the future.

“I admit it’s embarrassing as a community and as a member of the community, it’s embarrassing we haven’t spoken up about this for decades and it’s a bit shameful and a bad reflection on our community, in my opinion,” Borrowman said.

Councillor Vi Sandford said people in the past were “clumsy” with how they named things.

“I don’t think there was ill will intended in the [name] when people attributed this mountain and that was what I encountered when I first moved to the Bow Valley, however, this is not in Canmore, it is in the MD of Bighorn. However, I think the change of our perspective versus renaming … a change of perspective is required here,” Sandford said.

The councillor noted this is a time to look back on the past and right the wrongs and move forward with more enlightenment. 

Daniels is currently working with Stoney Nakoda to find a culturally appropriate name and will bring the request to support the initiative to the MD of Bighorn next month.


Jenna Dulewich

About the Author: Jenna Dulewich

Jenna Dulewich is a national and provincial award-winning multi-media journalist. Joining the Rocky Mountain Outlook in 2019, she covers Stoney Nakoda, MD of Bighorn, Canmore and court.
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