Postal decolonization proves there's power in a name
// Adam Gaudry

VICTORIA (CUP) – Upon their arrival to Canada, the first thing most “explorers” did was start naming things. While many of these men simply named things after themselves or places back home, it did occur to some that these places already were named, so they attempted to anglicize these foreign place names.

In the 19th century, the symbolic power of renaming the landscape was not lost on these new arrivals; the naming of the city of Victoria after the reigning monarch, Queen Victoria, implied laying claim to that land for the British Crown. Naming – or, more appropriately, renaming – was part of the process of colonization.

A quick jaunt around Victoria reveals an abundance of colonial names intended to glorify the presence of early British settlers as well as British leaders and heroes who would never come here: Captain Cook was here briefly; thus, we have Cook Street; Douglas Street was named after Vancouver Island Governor James Douglas.

What is absent from all of these names is any acknowledgment that there was a history on Vancouver Island that goes back further than 200 years. While the odd plaque may make mention of something existing earlier than this, it always seems to historicize the presence of indigenous peoples and confine indigenous naming to the past.

This geographical reordering has removed an indigenous presence from the landscape. It has rendered invisible the ancient and permanent relationship between indigenous peoples and their lands.

One way to make that relationship visible again is through postal decolonization. Postal decolonization is the use of traditional indigenous place names on mail instead of the more recent names imported and invented by the new arrivals to this continent. Given that the postal system is the most everyday form of organizing space in Canada, re-imagining space in the postal system can also serve to decolonize space.

The goal is to get people using the Canadian postal system to think about where they are and whose land they live on. Instead of Victoria, one can list the mailing address as “Occupied Coast Salish Territories” or just “Coast Salish Territories”. Instead of Edmonton, one can write “Cree Territory”; in place of Thunder Bay, “Anishinaabe Territory”. Doing this does not actually prevent your letter from arriving at its intended destination because the postal code is coded to identify a specific block in a city.

By returning to traditional place names, we can take the power to name out of the hands of those who claimed this land as theirs alone. Returning to the original names shows proper respect for the people on whose land we live. It can also serve as an educational tool.

I would encourage you to research where you live: start thinking of it as an ancient place with names that go back more than a few generations.

// Adam Gaudry, The Martlet (University of Victoria)
// Illustration by Marco Ferreira

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