A ceremony took place in the Bow Valley on Sept. 29 that revealed the replacement name of a mountain north of Canmore. For over 100 years, the peak has been referred to using a racial slur, but Bald Eagle Peak, a traditional name that was used generations ago, will be reinstated.
It was an emotional ceremony, as Stoney First Nation chiefs and elders, along with the mayor of Canmore, spoke about the importance of place names and the history of the area.
Elder Una Wesley was one of the many speakers at the ceremony. Wesley (White Bison Woman) grew up in a residential school starting at age seven. Wesley had one daughter, who passed away in October last year, and three grandchildren – one who was murdered in 2016.
For over a decade, she’s worked at the Eagles Nest Women’s Shelter in Morley. She was also involved in tribal politics, serving as the first female Chief in Treaty 7 territory. For four years, she was a councillor for the Bearspaw First Nation along with the esteemed position as Chief for her nation.
Marie Conboy, editor of The Crag and Canyon, was at the ceremony and sent us a number of videos and photos.
Wesley said the racist name reminded her about her time in the residential school. Hear what Wesley had to say about the new name below.
Elder Lloyd “Buddy” Wesley, the MC of the ceremony, said that the renaming was “a long time coming” and the new name is to represent nature and honour the elder women.
He said, “We as First Nations, especially my tribe, don’t name mountains after a person, because we’re not worthy. [Mountains] are majestic and sacred, they’re gods to us. Imagine a mount Buddy, it’s disgraceful.”
Many mountains in western Canada had names before colonialists introduced renaming them after European men and women.
“Because we frequent this Bow corridor over the passes right up to Shuswap and down the Columbia, we have name for special points and the areas. These are our traditional territories for hunting and gathering.”
Hear what Buddy Wesley has to say below.
Over the past few months, there’s been a lot of local and national media covering the issue of place names. A lot of the progress being made is thanks to Canmore local Jude Daniels.
Daniels is a member of the Law Society of Alberta, the Indigenous Bar Association and the Métis Nation of Alberta, and is on the board of directors for Spirit North.
She’s worked in the oil and gas sector as a senior legal counsel and senior Aboriginal Relations advisor for over 20 years. She’s wrote Métis History and Experience and Residential Schools in Canada and co-authored Métis Memories of Residential School.
“I am an Indigenous woman living in Canmore and that peak is just next to my house in Eagle Terrace,” Daniels told me at the end of June in reference to the peak with a racist name. Her work behind the scenes has been insturmental.
“I see that mountain most days when I return home. And each time it feels like a knife just stabbed my stomach. Just imagine what it feels like to know that there are people that view you with utter contempt and despise you solely because you are an Indigenous woman.”
While there’s been some pushback online to officially rename racist, sexist and offensive mountain and route names, the majority of responses have been supportive.
Canmore mayor, John Borrowman, said at the ceremony that the name being replaced “was embarrassing and wrong.”
Bald Eagle Peak is not the first mountain in the Bow Valley to be renamed. Ha Ling Peak was the official name given to a summit in the Ehagy Nakoda range south of Canmore in the 1990s. Read the story behind the first ascent of Ha Ling here.
In July, climbers Bethany Lebewitz, Ashleigh Thompson, Melissa Utomo and Erynne Gilpin hosted an online community discussion regarding prejudice route names and climbing culture.
Lebewitz, a national leader with Brown Girls Climb and a founding member of the Color the Crag festival, said: “It’s hard because there is this beautiful gift of physical movement and mental engagement, but then we shift to seeing route names, experiencing conversations or interactions that can be really traumatizing.” Read the story here.
Last week, we reported that a handful of rock climb names in Squamish were changed from their original offensive ones. Read about them here.
There’s still a long way to go to replace all of the racist and sexist mountain and climb names, but Bald Eagle Peak is step in the right direction.