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'No other option or choice': Advocates support motion to rename Regina's Dewdney Avenue

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Regina city council is set to discuss a motion brought forward by two city councillors that would see Dewdney Avenue be renamed.

It’s a topic that has been brought up in the past.

Joely BigEagle-Kequahtooway has long called for the city to change the name of the road.

“It may not seem significant,” she told CTV News. “But to me, it is.”

BigEagle-Kequahtooway first began her calls in 2019 when the city reached out to her about what Regina could to do follow through on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action.

“The last eight years have been an educational campaign to talk about who Edgar Dewdney was,” she explained.

The street is named after Edgar Dewdney, who was born in 1835 in England and died in 1916. He held many political positions in Canada after arriving in the country in 1859.

In 1881, Dewdney was appointed Lieutenant-Governor of the NWT, a position he held in conjunction with that of Indian commissioner. One of his first significant acts in this role was the selection of Regina (Wascana) as the new territorial capital in 1882, according to the University of Saskatchewan

Dewdney’s use of withholding rations as a device to impose state authority on First Nations is often cited when discussing his controversial status among Canada’s Indigenous population.

The threat of hunger compelled Indigenous Peoples to settle on reserves, adopt agriculture and send their children to mission schools.

Dewdney Avenue is the only road in Regina which spans from the city’s limit in the west to the one in the east.

“It seems to be the heart,” BigEagle-Kequahtooway said. “Is Dewdney a good representation of the heart of Regina?”

In 2021, city council removed the name Dewdney from the now named Buffalo Meadows Park and Buffalo Meadows Pool.

BigEagle-Kequahtooway believes the city did not go far enough.

“It was a token gesture,” she called it.

Coun. Andrews Stevens and Coun. Dan LeBlanc are pushing for the renaming of the famous Regina street because they feel the person it is named after, Edgar Dewdney, has a legacy that his harmful to Indigenous Peoples.

In the notice of motion signed by the two councillors, Dewdney is described as, “a historical figure who was directly responsible for the development and administration of harmful policies towards Indigenous Peoples, including establishing and providing oversight for residential schools.”

“We owe it to the residents who are asking for this,” Stevens said.

Stevens and LeBlanc say naming a street after someone is an act of honouring them and because of that, would like to see the roadway renamed “as soon as possible.”

“The City of Regina has some undoing to do before we can even consider engaging in some reconciliatory acts,” LeBlanc said. “And we have a lot of work to do.”

BigEagle-Kequahtooway wants the street to become tatanga (Tatanka) Avenue.

tatanga is the Nakota/Lakota word for buffalo.

“This was prime buffalo land before this city was here,” BigEagle-Kequahtooway said. “[Indigenous people] used buffalo for everything.”

Buffalo also became the centre of trade between Indigenous people and settlers.

“That’s how important Buffalo were to – not only Indigenous people – but non-Indigenous,” BigEagle-Kequahtooway added.

Last year, the City of Saskatoon approved a name change for a road named after Canada’s first Prime Minister, John A MacDonald.

“Approximately 200 addresses – including less than a dozen home-based businesses – were impacted by the change,” Director of Indigenous Initiatives Melissa Cote said in an emailed statement to CTV News.

“A final report for Council is forthcoming and will include a summary of costs,” the statement went on to say. “However it is estimated the administrative cost of making the change was approximately $60,000.”

The cost of changing all the signage of Dewdney Avenue – should the famous Regina street be renamed one day – could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Mayor Sandra Masters.

“There’s 2,500 businesses and residences along Dewdney Avenue and I understand the difficulty with the name. This is not new information, we knew there was several hundred signatures on a petition a few years ago,” Masters said.

“Really that’s what council is going to have to debate and determine whether or not they want to investigate that at this time,” she added.

According to Masters, the price to change the name of Dewdney Avenue could range from hundreds of thousands of dollars to “not that much.”

“It’s not just about that though, it’s about every resident having to change their addresses on their utility bills, on every credit card statement and so really community consultation will inform back as well as the investigation into what is the actual cost,” Masters said.

BigEagle-Kequahtooway believes reconciliation is priceless.

“How do you put a price tag on lifting people’s spirits?” She asked. “I don’t see any other option or choice.”

The motion will be in front of City Council June 12 with councillors making a decision sometime after.

-- With files from Drew Postey. 

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