Why is Prince George called “Prince George”? It might be in honour of King George III. But no one’s quite sure.
The local First Nation, on the other hand, know exactly why they have their name. “Lheidli T’enneh” quite literally means “people of the confluence”. This is because they lived and live at the meeting of the Fraser and Nechako rivers.
Ever since learning this, I’ve wished early European settlers hadn’t insisted on changing things. We’re still people of a confluence, not just of rivers but of highways, a railroad, education, and an international airport. But instead, here we are naming ourselves after a foreign monarch who never set foot anywhere near here. Our name, the very essence of our identity, has nothing to do with who we are and what we do. It’s meaningless.
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Today, the 2015 Winter Games announced that the Lheidli T’enneh would be the first ever “Official Host First Nation” for the Canada Winter Games. It will involve using the Dakelh language in the programming, and the raising of the Lheidli flag, a first for the city of Prince George.
This is on the heels of a few other initiatives: the Tourism Prince George offices downtown have pictures of animals in their windows, accompanied by the Dakhelh language words for them. Along George Street, there are bilingual “Welcome” signs. And this past summer, city hall unveiled a public art piece by Jennifer Annaïs Pighin and Robert Frederick that incorporates Lheidli T’enneh traditions and history into its design.
I think all of these are great ideas. One of the most important things a community can have is a unique identity, and the best place to get that is its unique history. George Street is, for the most part, a generic street that one would be hard-pressed to differentiate from any other street in any other town. But add a language that you won’t find anywhere else, and you have much more a sense of place. The history of a territory is something that can and should be embraced by everyone who calls it home. “Prince George” means nothing. “Lheidli T’enneh” does.
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