Grand Chief Joe Norton joins Mayor of Montreal Valérie Plante at the unveiling of the new name for Rue Amherst in Montreal on Friday, June 21, 2019. The street will be known as Rue Atateken and was announced on National Indigenous Peoples Day. (Photo by William Riley)
Montreal mayor Valérie Plante announced on June 21 that Amherst Street would now be known by its new Mohawk name, Atateken, to a cheering crowd kicking off National Indigenous Peoples Day at Parc Miville-Couture.
“It’s a path towards reconciliation with Indigenous people,” said Plante, adding this new name reflects the profound values of Montreal such as reconciliation, inclusion and the act of sharing.
While it may be hard at first for non-Indigenous speakers to pronounce the name, Plante said people will adapt with time.
“People will pronounce the name how they like it,” she said. “I think it’s normal to adapt when we have the name of a street from a different language.”
Plante reminded the crowd that National Indigenous Peoples Day was about remembering the mistakes of the past and writing a better future for each and every one on this land.
While many people were happy about this change in the spirit of reconciliation with Indigenous communities, some experts argue that the new name does not exactly reflect its meaning of brotherhood and sisterhood.
Harvey Gabriel, an elder from Kahnawake, said the name only refers to a singular noun in the Mohawk language, while the plural form of brotherhood should have been atatekenseras.
“They took off the beginning of the Mohawk word and they end with atateken,” he said. “Now that ending has no meaning and I cannot use that word to any of my brothers, which will not make any sense to them. The proper word for brotherhood is atatekenseras, a plural word.”
Hilda Nicholas, director of the Language and Cultural Centre in Kanehsatake, said there are also accents missing in the word, and she is hopeful that the city will add them eventually.
“The city is missing the accent over and after the ‘e,’ but they are supposed to put it later when it is official,” she said. “I grew up with this word in my family and also linguistically the concept is important. The dialect sometimes differ from regions.”
The Montreal’s commissioner of Indigenous affairs, Marie-Ève Bordeleau, said the process of name change was simple and there were no challenges.
“It was a request and a demand from different Indigenous people and nations to change the name of Amherst street,” she said.
Bordeleau said the name change was guided by experts like Indigenous anthropologists who gave context and insights to the Plante administration.
“We had an elder that taught us the ways that traditional names were given in the past by Indigenous people,” Bordeleau said. “It was very important to have a representative from the Mohawk nation that would be working with us and people representing the Indigenous urban community.”
She added that people can expect other names of streets and locations to change as well moving forward.
Akwiratékha Martin, a Kanien’kéha teacher at Kahnawake Survival School, said initially Amherst was going to be named after an agricultural name as the historical location, but the chosen name now reflects its location in the Gay Village of Montreal.
“The presenters talked about the area being a place where there was farming going on and that it was a meadow before,” Martin said. “Atatè:ken fits well with the area as well as the three sisters, brotherhood and sisterhood.”
The name change will be approved in August by Montreal’s municipal council. In the meanwhile, people can expect a transitional period, indicating Amherst-Atateken, so that people can adapt to the change until Fall 2019.
After the morning presentation, Montrealers and visitors walked over to Montreal’s Old Port to enjoy the day’s events. At the new PY1 pyramid, Atikamekw artist Catherine Boivin performed a traditional butterfly dance in front of many who were left in awe by the colorful lights and smokes.
André Dudemaine, founder and director of Land InSights (which produces Montreal’s First People’s Festival), said the next step in reconciliation is to create an Aboriginal cultural space in Montreal where people can appreciate the history and culture.
“We hope that sooner or later, the Quebec government will give us the green light,” he said.
Dudemaine wanted people to be thankful of the land and be reminded that we are in an Indigenous territory.
“It’s important that when you come here, you feel that you are in an Indigenous place,” he said. “The Aboriginal culture should have their obvious presence in the architecture, street names, parks and so on.”
Rock and Roll, Blues and Indigenous culture at Cabot Square
Fans came out in droves to rock out with Corey Diabo and celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day at Cabot Square, in Montreal, on June 21.
Executive director of the Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal Nakuset has been organizing the concert for the past four years and said that this year it was extra special.
“This year I was lucky because MNA David Birnbaum asked if I could use additional money, so I said sure,” said Nakuset.
The Cabot Square Project received an additional $8,000 for the event doubling its budget from the initial $7,500 that they had received from the city of Montreal.
“This is the first year that I can actually pay Indigenous peoples what they are worth,” she said.
The extra money allowed Nakuset to book an impressive array of Indigenous artist including throat singer Nina Segalowitz, Moe Clark, Buffalo Hat Singers, The Sinquah Family Dance Troupe and of course the headliner Corey Diabo.
The Jonas & The Massive Attraction guitarist played with his brother Keith and band, and closed the show. He spoke about Kahnawake’s diverse pool of musical talent that’s worth celebrating.
“Kahnawake has been filled with talented musicians. I used to see a lot of older guitar players. My brother Keith Diabo is a big influence because he turned us on to playing guitar. But there were all sorts of artists in the community that were successful,” said Diabo. “There is more to Kahnawake than just sports.”
Audience members also participated in soapstone carving workshops, as well as browsed the variety of vendors offering handmade artisanal products and traditional crafts.
Quebec Solidaire leader Manon Massé attended the event and spoke about the importance of National Indigenous Peoples Day.
“I think it is really necessary,” said Massé. “There is still much work to do, and we are still getting to know each other. We need to be able to trust each other to remove stereotypes and to build a more united future.”
Fun in the sun for National Indigenous Peoples Day
Indigenous art and music, some bball, fun at the waterpark and games galore highlighted June 21 National Indigenous Peoples Day events.
In Kahnawake the splash pad was surrounded by youth activities including basketball, a bouncy house, Pat’s Pets and soapy ball hockey.
While everyone in Kahnawake was soaking up the sun and feasting on some free BBQ, Montreal was busy changing street names and hosting events.
Lachine named a new street Skaniatarati to commemorate city’s name from Kahnawake “the other side of the river.”