French names are here to stay for the islands in the Caniapiscau Reservoir, at least for now. The Quebec government is in no hurry to correct the official map after mistakenly giving new names to the 101 islands.
Not realizing the islands already have Cree names, the government gave them new names from Quebec literature in an attempt to celebrate Quebec culture and Bill 101, the French Language Charter.
The government’s mistake made headlines in Montreal newspapers in September after The Nation informed authorities about the Cree names. Two months later, we called the government to find out what has been done to correct the mistake. The answer is: nothing.
“It’s an old story for us. Why are you bringing this up now?” asked Martin Roy, spokesman for Culture Minister Louise Beaudoin.
“There are over 300 islands in the reservoir. There are enough islands for everyone. The ball is in the Natives’ camp. They have to prove the islands have Native names. We are open to any sort of discussion. We will be ready to move some of the names (to other islands).”
Christian Bonnelly of the Quebec Toponymy Commission said, “We did our work, us. If the Crees don’t provide us with the information, we can’t go everywhere to find information.”
Bonnelly confirmed that the upper part of the Caniapiscau River was given a new name, too: the Rene-Levesque River. The name was chosen to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the former premier’s death. This part of the Caniapiscau River was cut off by the reservoir from the downstream part. “It’s a river
that had no name,” said Bonnelly.
Crees were never consulted about any of the new names. The government went ahead with the plan because a survey done 20 years ago identified no Cree names for the former mountains.
The linguist professor who did the survey says she probably missed many names because she didn’t have enough money or time to do a complete survey. She blasted the government for proceeding in such a sloppy way, calling the move “an incredible insult to the Crees.”
The Grand Council of the Crees says no one has contacted the Crees to ask for any names. “I didn’t knowthey’re waiting,” said Bill Namagoose, executive director. “The onus is on them to correct their mistake. I think the Crees, Inuit and Naskapi are willing to cooperate. The names are known. We just have to document them. Just because they’re not on Quebec’s map doesn’t mean the names don’t exist,” he said.
“In the past, all the (name-finding) work was done by the Toponymy Commission. We just cooperated with their work. If the Quebec government wants us to make their maps, we’re more than willing to do it. We’ll rename everything if they give us the resources.”
Grand Chief Matthew Coon Come sent a letter to Beaudoin Oct. 3 about the renaming plan, but the government has no plans to respond to the letter. “It is as if the damages to the land were being celebrated with poetry,” the Grand Chief wrote.
THIS JUST IN: People with knowledge of the names will be asked to cooperate with an archaeologistthe CRA is sending to Mistissini after Christmas to start a proper survey.