Friday, October 7, 2011

First Nations want greater presence in the capital

Yesterday I went for a six-hour walk all over Ottawa and Gatineau's downtown area which started in the market, went through Centretown, Lebreton Flats and Portage, and ended on Parliament Hill.

Walking through the City Hall grounds I stumbled onto a rally at the Human Rights Monument celebrating First Nations Education Week. This brought me back to the recent Capital Conversations event where the NCC hosted a discussion on how to make the capital more representative of the First Nations. I strongly believe there needs to be a greater aboriginal presence in Ottawa but to be honest I found some of the ideas to be unreasonable. Renaming Wellington Street or Jacques Cartier Park after the late Algonquin spiritual leader William Commanda wouldn't go over well with a lot of people. The NCC and First Nations would attract some unnecessary enemies. I'm not sure if it would be appropriate to name the street that houses the country's parliamentary and governmental institutions after a local, Algonquin spiritual leader. Actually, I don't think it would be appropriate to name it after any local leader because of its national importance. People aren't even sure they still want the street to be called Wellington. Perhaps renaming Victoria Island would be less controversial since it's a historical spiritual site and William Commanda advocated for an aboriginal centre on the site for a long time.

A part of my walk took me to Riverfront Park behind the war museum. I thought to myself it would be a perfect place to rename in honour of the First Nations. It's absolutely beautiful and natural, has some interesting wildlife ( I saw a species of bird I'd never seen in my life), is situated along the river, and is very close to the Chaudière Falls and Victoria Island. I don't think people are attached to the name Riverfront Park so I doubt there would be much opposition to renaming it. I'd even support renaming the Ottawa River Parkway and the Rockliffe Parkway.

As I ended my walk at Parliament Hill I saw what I believed was the Assembly of First Nations flag flying to the right of Centre Block. After much thought I realized there is no public place in Ottawa, at least to my knowledge, where the flags of our Aboriginal People can be seen. Well, the Inuit people can see the flag of Nunavut in a few places.

There are twelve First Nations flags (according to Wikipedia), the Assembly of First Nations flag, a Métis flag, and the flag of Nunavut. Perhaps the NCC should put the flags of the provinces and territories on ice and give our Aboriginal people a prominent public place of their own along Confederation Boulevard.

There is a First Nations presence in Ottawa already, albeit a severely small one, with the monument in Confederation Park and totem pole in the Byward Market, but the effort is extremely sub par. At least the NCC wants to change that. When they will go beyond talk and actually do something about it is another story.

Kevin Bourne

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