A group of Indigenous youth who wanted Pioneer Park in Brentwood Bay to be renamed got their wish when Central Saanich council approved their request this week.
Pioneer Park will become HEL,HILEȻ (hul-he-look), which means “place of gladness” in SENĆOŦEN.
STIWET Elliott, a SENĆOŦEN immersion teacher at WSÁNEĆ Leadership Secondary School, said the idea to rename the park came after some in the community suggested the previous name felt colonial and inappropriate.
A year ago, hundreds of students from the school as well as Stelly’s Secondary held a demonstration in the park, urging council to consider renaming it.
“The feeling to make that change really built after we walked down there and that’s when we said: ‘We’re going to make a change here,’ ” Elliott said.
Following the walk, students made suggestions for a new name and put it to a vote by the whole school, Elliott said.
Students then wrote letters to council in SENĆOŦEN, with an English translation, advocating for the name change, and met with councillors, he said.
This week, council voted to approve their request. Students were happy to hear the news after spending the last year on the project, Elliott said. “We’re going to go down there and we’re going to celebrate a little bit,” he said.
Mayor Ryan Windsor called the change an important step in reconciliation.
Windsor said staff talked to the descendants of John Sluggett and George Stelly, who donated the land to the district for a schoolhouse in 1880, and the families will be recognized with a plaque in the park.
Curtis Olsen, administrator of the WSÁNEĆ School Board, said it was honourable for council to approve the students’ renaming request. Important places have names with meaning, and to see the park renamed in SENĆOŦEN is a recognition that it’s in WSÁNEĆ territory, he said.
“It brings pride to us that our youth were willing to take that stand,” Olsen said.
In 2019, elementary school students successfully petitioned to rename what was then called John Dean Provincial Park after they visited the sacred mountain known to them as LÁU,WELNEW (tlay-will-nook) on a field trip and found it called by a different name.
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