In brief

Vancouver gives downtown plazas Indigenous names amid seven First Nations’ struggle against pipeline

Native communities fear adverse environmental effects if oil infrastructure is enlarged

New names unveiled.
New names unveiled.
The City of Vancouver has given new names in the Halkomelem and Squamish languages to two plazas downtown. According to mayor Gregor Robertson, the decision is a sign of “recognition” to the Musqueam, Squamish and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations that speak those languages, and a proof of the “commitment to a new partnership” with them.

One of the plazas was named after Queen Elizabeth. From now on it will be called šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl’a7shn. It means “the place where one is invited.” How to pronounce it? Very roughly, it would be read “shtlekhen hutlashen”. The other plaza, which was named after an art gallery, will be called šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ, “a place where a cultural gathering is held”. Approximate pronunciation is “shtlenek hutlank”.

But the recognition coincides in time with a new battle in which those First Nations from the coast of British Columbia are immersed, namely their opposition to the planned expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline, which transports oil from Alberta to the straits of Georgia, in the Pacific Ocean. The pipeline is owned by US company Kinder Morgan. The Canadian government announced last month that it would purchase the pipeline to make sure the expansion was finally built despite opposition from environmentalists and certain Indigenous peoples.

Some First Nations dwelling areas far from the coast have been signing economic deals with Kinder Morgan, and now they have even voiced interest in investing in the pipeline. But First Nations inhabiting the Vancouver coast —among which those honoured by the City Council— argue that the extension of the pipeline will have immediate effects on the local ecosystem and will multiply by seven the number of oil tankers going through the straits of Georgia, with the increased risk of spills into the ocean.

Protests are being joined by members of the Indigenous peoples of the state of Washington, in the United States, which borders the area.

Seven First Nations, plus the city councils of Vancouver and Burnaby, have taken to the courts the federal approval of the pipeline.