The City of Vancouver and Province of BC have given indigenous names to two of Vancouver’s more significant open spaces.
The open space on the north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery is šxʷƛ̓ənəq Xwtl’e7énḵ Square – ‘a place where a cultural gathering occurs.’ The plaza in front of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre is šxʷƛ̓exən Xwtl’a7shn – ‘the Walks for Reconciliation‘.
The names incorporate languages of all three First Nations people — Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh. And it’s a great idea; anyone who’s been to New Zealand knows what a difference it makes to have Maori being used (‘Kia ora‘ most obviously) by everyone.
Which then raises the question here: are these plaza names meant to be practically applied?
It’s one thing to add them on to the existing names, rather like the signage on the Sea to Sky Highway. But here it’s hard to tell the two plaza names apart at a glance. It’s almost impossible to spell them. And who, without assistance, would even attempt to say them?
The city has produced a video to help:
But even here, they give two different pronunciations.
If there is not a simple way to spell and say these names — phonetically presented on an accompanying sign using common keyboard spelling — it leaves the suspicion that this is either a token effort, not to be taken that seriously, or it’s another way of guilt-tripping.
Photo credit: Pierre Martineau/CBC