As we start the 2019-2020 academic year, our newest campus building, previously called New North, finally has a name—or does it?

Two years ago, UTM launched a “suggestion box” to help the school decide on a name. Seeing an opportunity, the Campus Conservatives and I took action and led a campaign to name the school after former Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Of course, we expected it to fail.

The whole project actually began as a fun email chain among our members. Its success and notoriety was as much of a shock to us as I’m sure it was to the UTM administration. I have no doubt that the campaign was a success, in part because we were the only organized name-campaign. There is no chance another name had more suggestions. According to our internal numbers, we had over 100 students suggest “Stephen Harper Building” as the name.

That being said, I’m not upset the school went another direction. Naming the building with reconciliation in mind is quite admirable. Especially in Mississauga, where our campus resides on the land of the Mississaugas of the New Credit. But was “Maanjiwe Nendamowinan” really the right choice? It’s supposed meaning aside; the vast majority of our student body are unable to pronounce the name.  How will “Maanjiwe Nendamowinan” honour natives if no one can say it? Students have already started calling it “MN,” or have continued to use the temporary name.

To reiterate, the school made an admirable choice to honour our First Nations neighbours, but with this name they won’t be honouring anyone. The name will simply not be used. As much as they wish to be virtuous in their choice of name, the UTM administration has undermined the entire purpose of reconciliation.

There are dozens of name choices that could have been pronounceable and still represented the First Nations people. The “LaForme Building” would have easily been a better choice. Harry Smith LaForme being a Canadian appellate court judge who was the one time head of the Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a member of the Mississaugas. Surely a building baring his pronounceable name would honor the First Nations community and highlight the importance of the Reconciliation Commission.

Those of you who disagree with me would surely say my presumptions about whether students can pronounce the name is based on my hetero-European heritage. Surely my skin colour makes me a part of the oppressor class and thus my whole opinion is wrong.  To which I say: we can go about this your way and have the building referred to as everything but “Maanjiwe Nendamowinan,” or we can go about it practically and have the First Nations honoured with a different name that people will actually use.

The general student body cannot pronounce this name. We can either ignore that reality or embrace it and work to find a name that will be used and still honours the Indigenous people of Canada.

4 Comments

  1. I don’t personally see a problem with students using the abbreviation MN – when was the last time you heard someone say they were heading to study in the Hazel McCallion Academic Learning Centre, or grabbing lunch in the William G. Davis building? We have to shorten these names for ease of day to day use, but to my knowledge no one has complained about the length of the formal name.
    How can we say we care about reconciliation if we can’t even put aside our Westernized ideals of what a comfortable, “pronounceable” name is, long enough to honour this group the way THEY want to be honoured? I’m sure that anyone studying at this school has had to memorize course material much more extensive than 2 words. I’m sure that there are people on campus who would be happy to teach you to pronounce the full name of the building accurately, nevermind that it is phonetic. Use the abbreviation, or say the full name – either is fine. But there is a fundamental issue in saying that we should only honour Indigenous people in a way that is convenient for our “reality”.

    • I fully agree with you, the point of the name was to honor first nations and less about our comfort with it. The name may actually spark interest in students to take iniative to learn more about first nations and the land we are gratefully able to study upon. It brings light to the fact that UTM is a culturally diverse community and it’s an honor to have the first nations as part of our community.

  2. This article is a problem and should have never been published. It is COMPLETELY bias and extremely ignorant, and honestly not what anyone should want published online in a way of representing the university. Stop embarrassing us.

    • You do know what an opinion-piece is, right? If you disagree with people’s opinions, maybe this isn’t the section for you.

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