Skip to content

Parks Canada quietly removes racist name from Banff trail

While advocates struggle to remove racist terms and restore traditional names across the Bow Valley, Parks Canada has quietly changed an offensive trail name in Banff National Park

BANFF – Squaw.

Previously described in the Oxford, Merriam-Webster and Collins dictionary as a noun, meaning "a Native American or Canadian Indian woman" – now has the pre-text "offensive."

Described by Indigenous people as a racist, vulgar, derogatory term crafted by early settlers, the word was part of a popular trail name in Banff National Park that was quietly removed sometime this year.

"It's amazing at that time when people thought it was OK to name sacred mountains and paths in what is considered racist and derogatory terms," Stoney Nakoda elder Tina Fox said. "I think people should work together and include [us] as part of it – the discussion and perhaps, apologies. We are not bitter people that will carry a grudge for the rest of our lives – if someone apologizes then we are grateful."

Stoney Squaw Trail was an official trail name used by Parks Canada in Banff National Parks for decades and on the official website as recently as last December.

According to Internet archival site, WebArchives.org that screenshots and saves webpages, Parks Canada displayed the derogatory trail name on the official federal government website under the Trail Conditions webpage until Dec. 29, 2019.

There were no screenshots saved this January, February or March, and the April and May archives did not show trail names, as everything was shut down due to COVID-19.

The records show the name changed online to Upper Stoney Trail by June, but it is unclear when the renaming took place as there was no announcement or statement released.

Meanwhile, the trail sign for Stoney Squaw Summit and Jct. Lower Stoney Squaw was in place until at least last August at the trailhead in Banff National Park. As of Sept. 15, there are now stickers over the racist word. 

"The offensive name of Stoney Squaw mountain and trail is, and has been, a concern for Indigenous groups and Parks Canada for some time now," Parks Canada Communication Officer Justin Brisbane wrote in a statement on Wednesday, Aug. 16. "Our understanding is that local Indigenous groups are working on formally proposing a new name to the Geographical Names Board of Canada.

"In the meantime, the agency is committed to removing the offensive term from all Parks Canada maps and publications in Banff National Park by the end of 2020. This has already been done on the Parks Canada website, trail brochures and maps, and the agency is in the process of updating road signs, trail signs, kiosks and print publications to drop the derogatory term."

Stoney Nakoda consultation manager Bill Snow said the word is problematic for a number of reasons.

"It is offensive. Squaw is not a Stoney term – I think it might be French in origin [but] looking back in history when these places were named, there were a lot of terms thrown around in degradation," Snow said.

Coined by early European settlers, the term might have originally been used to identify Indigenous women, but has been long recognized as a derogatory term in any context.

The Town of Banff said it is for this reason the trail name was removed from its website last week.

Last Thursday, Sept. 10 the Outlook reached out to the Town of Banff requesting comment on the offensive trail name that was displayed on the Town's official website under the Visiting section. Senior communications specialist Janice Carson said officials could not comment on the name, as it was outside of the Town's jurisdiction.

"It is just outside of our jurisdiction ... it's not our trail," Carson said on Sept. 10.

On Sept. 11, Town of Banff changed the trail name on the website to Stoney Lookout.

In an interview with the Outlook that day, Carson said management sourced all trail content for the website from the Canadian Rockies Trail Guide and reiterated it is not the Town's trail name.

"It is just not our trail name ... my understanding is there is a [renaming] process underway," Carson said.

The Town of Banff emailed a statement later that afternoon.

“The Town of Banff values its relationship with our Indigenous neighbours and that we are all partners in the Treaty agreements," wrote Banff town manager Kelly Gibson. "The Town is committed to preventing and addressing racial discrimination and working with partners to remove namesakes that are offensive or discriminatory. We were made aware of the reference on our website and removed it immediately." 

TRADITIONAL NAMES

While racist terms are being removed from official geographical features in some parts of the Bow Valley, advocates are struggling in other areas to restore traditional names.

“We have to do [traditional naming] according to protocols, but it’s going to take as long as it is going to take,” Snow said with a laugh when talking about the process last month.

“Mount Valley in Alaska took 20 years before the name change and we are aware of that, and we are aware of all the other places we are working on. There are a lot of places that have Stoney names, so we are just proceeding as best as we can.”

Currently, there is a proposal in front of the province for 13 traditional Stoney names to be officially designated, including Tatâga Pa Mnen, translation Bison Head Creek off Highway 68; Pterathto baha nâ ze, translation Oval-Shaped Marsh Hills along Highway 66 near Elbow River; and Kiska thâ Îyârhe, translation Mount Goat along Highway 40.

In March, Stoney officials received a response from Alberta's Culture, Multiculturalism and Status of Women heritage division, stating a package with details about the 13 names was sent to Tsuut’ina Nation, Blood Tribe, Siksika Nation and Piikani Nation inviting them to comment on the proposed changes.

Snow said the process is ongoing, but noted there have been some small victories along the way.

In 2015, Stoney Nakoda was successful in holding a ceremony at Eyarhey Tatanga Woweyahgey Wakân, translated as Buffalo Guardian Mountain in English – currently known as Tunnel Mountain in Banff National Park.

While the traditional name request has yet to be granted, the name was officially registered with the Geographical Names Board of Canada in 2016. Currently, there is also a petition to rename Tunnel Mountain to Buffalo Mountain with more than 1,000 signatures on Change.org.

In 2018, the Chiniki Elder Advisory Council worked with the MD of Bighorn in the Telling our Stories project, unveiling eight plaques across the Bow Valley highlighting traditional Stoney/Îyâhre names. Plaques are displayed from Ozîja Baha, currently known as Bear Hill, to Châ Ûpchîchîyen Kudebi, currently known as Canmore.

MD of Bighorn Reeve Dene Cooper said he is supportive of learning and sharing the cultural history in the valley. He also said he personally supports the current initiative to find an official name for the peak near the summit of Sir Charles Stewart Mountain.

"I think the peak well-deserves an official name and sooner would be better – and we can certainly do better," Cooper said.

PROBLEMATIC PEAKS

The movement to officially name a Bow Valley peak with a racist nickname has gained traction.

Last month, Town of Canmore council threw support behind the initiative to find an official name for the peak visible from the townsite, but noted the mountain was not within the municipality's corporate boundaries.

The peak on top of Sir Charles Stewart Mountain is located within the MD of Bighorn, but Cooper noted it is not under the care and control of the municipal district.

“The MD is very large and we have lots of mountains and lots of peaks and this one happens to be in [Bow Valley] Wildland Provincial Park … the primary agency is the government of Alberta,” Cooper said.

While Bighorn council cannot govern the mountain peaks within provincial lands, the Reeve said he is more than happy to give his opinion to Alberta Parks.

“Personally, I feel the only way to resolve issues in this matter is to have a legally recognized name for that peak and point to that as a name that should be on all maps and correspondence,” he said.

“Right now, there is nothing to point to, nothing formally to point to and I think that is a very serious deficit.”

While the offensive nickname may be unofficial, it is a name easily found on the world wide web for anyone who searches "Squaw’s Tit." Found on trail apps, YouTube videos, websites and blogs, it was enough reason to motivate Canmore lawyer Jude Daniels to spend the last six years campaigning for the government to designate an appropriate name.

“This Peak Project is critically important for a number of reasons," Daniels told the Outlook last month. "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.”

Snow said he has been working with elders to find an appropriate name for the peak and the traditional name for the trail in Banff.

“Right now, we’ve had some conversations with elders, but we need to talk to more because we haven’t got the whole story yet. We hope to. We want to, but it’s just a matter of trying to fit it in – we have the baseline information but we still need a little bit more,” Snow said.

“All these things take resources to do, whether putting up a teepee, having a ceremony, talking with elders – it takes capacity and resources to do that.”

While there has been social media feedback about losing tradition and history, Stoney Nakoda officials said the geographical names displayed across the valley on signs and in maps are not true historic names, as traditional names were given long before European settlers arrived here 153 years ago.

“Those names do not fully represent the history of those places, the meaning of those places. Some of their [traditional] names are indicative of stories, plant life, animals – so when you give a mountain a name of a person who may have never come out here or may have never visited this area, then that place takes that name and loses all of its meaning,” Snow said.

“Unfortunately we have seen that many times and so to understand the landscape, understand these beautiful places, sacred places – we need to understand the traditional stories that represent those places.”



Comments


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.
Read more