When Victoria-area First Nations chiefs called for a meeting with colonial governor James Douglas 160 years ago, the peak of Mount Douglas was the natural spot.
The 213-metre high rocky outcrop is ingrained in Saanich First Nation creation stories and culture, but it’s existing name is synonymous with what aboriginal people say are longstanding historical injustices. Tsawout First Nation chief Eric Pelkey calls the name Mount Douglas an insult to local aboriginal people.
The hereditary chief is leading an effort to have site given its ancient name, Pkols, once again. He plans to lead a march up Mount Doug Wednesday at 5 p.m. for a symbolic renaming ceremony and a reenactment of the meeting with Douglas.
“Renaming Mount Doug is to bring out to the public the significance of Pkols to Saanich and Songhees and Esquimalt. It is a sacred site and it means a lot to us,” Pelkey said. “This has been in the heart of our elders as long as I can remember to bring back the true name of Pkols, now known as Mount Doug.”
University of Victoria indigenous governance professor Taiaiake Alfred said renaming of Mount Douglas is akin to renaming the Queen Charlotte Islands as Haida Gwaii. Victoria too is awash in place names rooted in aboriginal languages – Saanich, Sooke, Esquimalt, Metchosin and Malahat, to name a few.
“The longer vision is not to erase the colonial history. We are not seeking to rename the whole park, just Mount Doug, we want to rename the peak to give it it’s proper name, as distinct from the park,” said Alfred, who is a member of the Indigenous Nationhood Movement.”This isn’t about looking for some kind of retaliation. It is looking to restore the balance and show respect for the original name.”
The Douglas treaties, which arguably delineated Fort Victoria colonial territory and First Nations territory, have their origins from a meeting on Mount Douglas in 1852 between Douglas the governor and a group of chiefs, Pelkey said. The chiefs had actually planned to kill Douglas and wipe out Fort Victoria in retaliation for a farmer killing an aboriginal youth, he said, but were convinced otherwise by a missionary.
“The chiefs decided to spare James Douglas and not wipe out the colony and to live in peace, but they wanted a promise their way of life would be protected and their territory honoured,” Pelkey said. That discussion would become the Douglas treaties.
“The fact that it is called Mount Douglas is a slap in the face for our people,” he said. “It’s where the Douglas treaties were signed in 1852 by James Douglas as a representative of the Queen. Since that day, successive colonial governments have not honoured those treaties.”
Douglas established what would be Mount Doug Park in 1858 as government reserve land. The City of Victoria designated the land as a park in 1889 and it was transferred to the municipality of Saanich in 1992.
“We wouldn’t move to remove the park status, just that this is Pkol and is a sacred place,” Pelkey said. “There are no land claims in the works.”
Saanich Mayor Frank Leonard said he’s never been asked formally or informally by First Nations leaders to rename the mountain.
“There’s been no contact at all, and we haven’t given it any thought at all,” Leonard said. Saanich parks staff and police will be on hand to ensure the safety of the march with regard to vehicle traffic.
“We will try to make sure it’s safe. After the event we’ll figure out where to go from there. If and when they contact us we’ll discuss it then.”
The Reclaim Pkols march is tonight (May 22) at 5 p.m. starting at the base of Mount Doug. The public is welcome and to watch the Douglas treaties reenactment at the top of the mountain.