Local man seeks to change the name of Indian Road in Kingston

When Daniel Shipp saw that a street sign in his Strathcona Park neighbourhood had been stolen overnight, he guessed the act of vandalism might have more meaning than met the eye. The sign on Indian Road has been a concern for Shipp and some of his community members for years, so the fact that it was stolen on the eve of the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation seemed fitting, despite its illegality.

The signs at the intersection of Indian Road and Champlain Avenue remain today. Submitted photo.

“Ironically, the street sign on the corner of Mohawk and Indian was stolen last night. As much as I would like to see the removal of all of these derogatory street signs, I believe there is a process. I have already reported the theft through the City of Kingston online customer service portal,” he confirms.

“We’ve lived here for almost seven years, and we weren’t thrilled about the name of the street when we first arrived and that’s been a sentiment of just about anybody who we know our street,” explains Shipp.

“In 2016, I decided I wanted to do something about it,” he says. Simply put, he says “I didn’t think it was right.”

Adhering to his own beliefs, Shipp began that proper “process.”

“I’m not politically motivated, but it just isn’t right, so I started advocating to the City, the mayor, the City Council and asking them to move forward with a name change,” says Shipp.

“The city councillor did do a small solicitation on the streets to test the sentiment of the street, back in 2017 I think. The majority of people that he spoke with then felt that it wasn’t necessary. I got tired after a while and I let it go because the City did nothing.”

However, he points out, “2017 and 2021 are like different planets when it comes to indigenous issues. So, I was quite motivated, probably about a year ago, to get this going again. I reached out again to our city councillor, and to the mayor, and I’ve had a good meeting with the city councillor and a good meeting with the mayor by phone, about how we can move forward.” 

“Councillor Jeff McLaren will be executing a door-to-door visitation once again, to get a sense of the sentiment. And I’m certainly supporting him 100 per cent and may even assist with that if he’s open to it,” says Shipp, “I think it would be highly embarrassing not to have a good result.”

For his part, Councillor Jeff McLaren confirms that “Dan approached me a few years ago to do this. At the time, the overwhelming consensus on the street was not the change [the name of Indian Road]. Since then, there has been a lot of news from residential school survivors and about unmarked graves being discovered, and sentiment may have changed.”

“So we’re going to do it again,” McLaren continues, “It’s been five and a half to six years since we did it last time. And if the residents feel that they would like to change it, then I will set [about] the process, and if they don’t and a majority do not, it’ll stay the same.”

Shipp says he is going to try harder to make a difference this time as an act of reconciliation.

“My efforts include a letter today, the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. This is my way of moving symbolism to action,” he explains, “And I’m going to hand out a very encouraging letter to my neighbours and my friends asking them to extend their support when the Councillor comes around in a few weeks.” 

Shipp points out that the street name is a violation of the City’s Road Naming Policy (205-28) that states, “Names that are discriminatory, offensive, or derogatory shall not be permitted”. 

“I think we would all be very surprised to find the word ‘Indian’ on anything [of this context in North America], yet here we are still using this term to represent a beautiful street. There is no honour for this word on a street sign,” he says, “It’s time to move ahead.”

Shipp allows room for diplomacy in his argument, “I think it’s a violation of the street naming policy and it should be rectified, but I understand though the political interest also should be there and so getting a sentiment of people. I also think it will be a very different opinion than 2017. I think the City will move forward with a name change, that is my hope.”

What’s in a name?

‘Indian’ is a term that has been used to identify Indigenous peoples in South, Central and North America, but most now consider it outdated and offensive. According to The Canadian Encyclopedia, the term’s origins lie in a dubious mistake by Christopher Columbus who, in the late 1400s, believed he had reached Asia when, in fact, he had arrived in the Caribbean. 

Nevertheless, he referred to the people of the Americas as Indians and the term stuck, being used indiscriminately to refer to all Indigenous peoples in North, Central and South America, with the exception of the Inuit in the Canadian Arctic, Greenland and Alaska.

In its stead, the term “Indigenous” has been used widely in Canada to refer to First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples since the Canadian government accepted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples without qualifications in 2016.

In Canada, ‘Indian’ does have some legal significance, as it is used to refer to legally defined identities set out in the Indian Act, such as Indian Status. Because of this, some Indigenous peoples do still use the term ‘Indian’ to confirm their ancestry and protect their historic relationship with the Crown and federal government. Yet, others do not see the definitions set out in the Indian Act as affirmations of their identity.

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