A few days ago, I noticed an article in my local paper [edit–Edmonton Journal story is no longer online] saying that a place not too far from me is going to have a new name; as of today, the area I grew up calling ‘Hobbema’ will now be known as Maskwacis, AB. This week, the story is being featured in news across the country (CBC TV, Globe and Mail, National Post, etc.)
The ‘new’ name comes from the Cree word for “Bear Hills”–according to the article, “at one time, the area was covered in blueberry bushes that attracted a large bear population.” Evidently, the old name “Hobbema” came from…….the name of a Dutch painter?? who knew…
How do you write Maskwacis in Cree?
The language geek in me just had to ask this question, so I googled a cree syllabics converter in order to make the flashcard below. Evidently, ᒪᐢᑲᐧᒋᐢ can also be written as ‘maskwachis‘— I wonder if someone, somewhere had an opinion about whether the new name should end in ‘cis’ or ‘chis’? Alas, I know very little about Cree, so I can’t really comment. It’s a really a pity– I live in the middle of treaty six territory…. I wish I knew more about the language…perhaps it can be a future learning project.
This story reminded me of the renaming of Haida Gwaii a few years ago–there are probably so many stories like this across Canada.
[edit: check out this great essay by Christi Belcourt, entitled “Reclaiming ourselves one name at a time”]—-“One by one, I am trying to learn the original names of places around me and speak their names out into words. Awakening into sounds and songs my respect for the places of my ancestors and the sacred ground I walk on.”