It appears a plan to re-name Roderick Haig Brown Provincial Park to recognize the area’s First Nations’ heritage was lost in translation.
Earlier in the week, the B.C. Government announced a name change is in the works for three B.C. Parks to better reflect their cultural significance to First Nations communities.
Among them is Roderick Haig-Brown Provincial Park in the Shuswap. It was announced the park would be renamed Tsútswecw Park, which the government press release stated meant ‘many fish’ in the Secwepemc language.
It seems, however, that the proper spelling for the Secwepemc word for ‘many fish’ was somehow misinterpreted.
The correct spelling for the Secwepemc word meaning ‘many fishes’ is actually Suswéwll.
As Kathryn Michel, language programs coordinator at Chief Atahm School near Chase, explains, the province chose the right word to reflect the area, but somehow ended up with incorrect spelling.
“A friend of mine had said what they had chosen and spelled it out and so I’m going, ‘they chose the name Tsútswecw? That’s confusing because that means many creeks,’’” Michel says.
“Then on the radio I heard the CBC announcer say that it meant many fish… at the very end I think she must have had a phonetic pronunciation and I heard her say Suswéwll and then I thought that makes sense, because Suswéwll means many fish. It’s basically just a spelling error, that’s what I’m bringing to everybody’s attention.”
She adds, “Suswéwll is a perfect name because it means many fish, but Tsútswecw means many creeks.”
When the Observer contacted the province about the name confusion, they said the government would be looking into the situation. They have not yet commented on whether the name will be changed or whether signage for the new park has already been produced.
Michel feels this is an easily forgiven typographical error on the part of the B.C. government, considering how recently the Secwepemc language has evolved into a written form and that few places are actively studying and teaching the language.
“It’s an honest mistake to make because, besides our school, there is not a lot of people that are actively learning to read and write the language,” she says. “That’s all I was bringing to everyone’s attention, just for there to be a change in the spelling so that it is correct.”
She does note that increased public involvement in the renaming process could have helped avoid this spelling error.
“They probably would have to have a bit of a larger discussion and maybe even a meeting on it,” she suggests. “I can understand why you would want to protect the process in some ways, but I think if they actually made it a little bit more transparent about how the process of naming is happening we probably could have weighed in a little bit sooner on this.”
Michel also believes the correct spelling is likely more accessible to others who don’t know the Secwepemc language, as the written word for Suswéwll is easier to understand how to pronounce.
The word Tsútswecw is pronounced ‘soot swec,’ and Michel suggests the ‘ts’ pronunciation is confusing to those unfamiliar with the language, while the word Suswéwll is pronounced more or less how it looks, ‘soo shwell.’
The name Suswéwll, or ‘many fish,’ reflects the abundance of resources in the Shuswap, which gives it great importance to the First Nations communities that call it home.
“My father always called it the bread basket of our people,” Michel explains. “Adams Lake had everything for us, it had so many species of fish and wildlife, and that’s where our traditional territories are.”
To her, the move on behalf of the B.C. government to better reflect the roots of a First Nations culture that still thrives here today is an honourable one. She would just appreciate a simple spelling correction.
“I’m really very passionate about our language and our culture, it’s what I have devoted my life to,” she says. “I think having the prominence of actually having a name in our language is kind of just honoring our existence and also of sort of our presence in the whole area.”