Toronto is joining a number of other places as far as street signs go, adding the language of the original inhabitants of the land.
“By doing this, it shows that the First Nations people are still here. We’re still on their land. We share it but we’re still on their land,” Grant said.
That’s the problem though, isn’t it, that all the colonial people are still on their land, dominating that land, and dominating the original inhabitants, and not in good ways. While I have been in favour of various street sign initiatives, I think they have little impact on on non-Native people. Oh, they might ooh and aah for a moment or three, and then it’s ignored and forgotten.
Indian Country Today reported on this effort in Toronto back in July of 2013:
The Klallam signs went up in Port Angeles, Washington in February of this year, part of an initiative to revive the language. Red Lake had a similar initiative with the Ojibwe language in 2012. The same has been done with Cherokee tribes and many other tribes. If you do a search ‘street signs’ just on ICTMN, you’ll find yourself with pages of articles to read. Do I view this as a positive? For Indigenous people, yes. One of the first steps in decolonization is reclaiming language. That’s vital. Do I see it as a positive as far as non-natives are concerned? No. Although, I will admit it might wake a few people up here and there, and that’s certainly better than none. In uStates, you find all manner of very angry, spiteful white people who resent any signage which is multi-lingual, and I’m sure I don’t have to detail how such people feel about Indigenous language signs.
Then there’s the case of a certain street sign in Seattle, the intersection of Boren ave and Howell st. The street names will remain the same, it’s the crosswalk that will change.
It will change because of a murder that is most likely forgotten by most now, the murder of John T. Williams by a cop.
On September 11, a coalition of Seattle Native and non-Native agencies will break ground on a memorial crosswalk in honor of the late Nuu-chah-nulth woodcarver John T. Williams to be located at the site of his 2010 death, which occurred six years ago today. The “White Deer Crossing,” will be created by a partnership of the Seattle American Indian/Alaska Native Police Advisory Commission, the Seattle Indian Health Board, the Native American Advisory Council, the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and the John T. Williams Organizing Committee. It will replace the current crosswalk at the corner of Boren Avenue and Howell Street, which was where Seattle Police Officer Ian Birk shot Williams six years ago.
The white stripes of the old crosswalk will be pulled up and in their place will be a repeating design of a “White Deer Person.” The design will go across Boren Avenue on the north side of Howell Street, the same crosswalk Williams used just seconds before Birk jumped out of his police car and shot him four times.
The killing sent a shockwave through the community. Native groups staged several protests, especially after King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg announced he wasn’t going to file criminal charges against Birk due to a loophole in state law.
As always, the Native response in the face of violence is one of peace and healing. How much peace and healing can there be, though, with so very little done, and so quickly forgotten? How many people will look at street signs, or the crosswalk, and try to actually find out what they are all about? Will there be changes made to textbooks and curriculums? I suppose my feelings can be summed up with “better than nothing, but not enough. Never enough.”
Article about John T. Williams memorial crosswalk here.