The Board of Directors of the National Capital Commission (NCC) voted Thursday to rename Sir John A. Macdonald Parkway as Kichi Zībī Mīkan early this fall.
The Ottawa River Parkway was renamed in 2012 after Canada’s first Prime Minister, who oversaw the centralization and expansion of the country’s residential school system.
Indigenous peoples have been clamoring for a new name for years. Ottawa city councilors along the roadway joined them in 2021, and in January of this year the NCC board voted to change the name.
Earlier this month, the CEO said the new name was chosen after consultation with Algonquin people.
Mīkan, pronounced MEE-khan, is an Algonquin word meaning road or path. Kichi Zībī means great river and is the Algonquin name for what would later be called the Ottawa River.
Staff told board members Thursday that the name will be officially unveiled at an event on Sept. 30, National Day for Truth and Reconciliation.
Albert Dumont, an Algonquin spiritual advisor from Kitigan Zibi Anishinābeg First Nation north of Ottawa, was one of the main advocates for the name change and organized a protest on September 30 last year.
He said earlier this week that it will feel good to hear the replacement.
“My heart will be happy every time,” he told the CBC’s Hallie Cotnam.
“I have to say it was really painful to hear it so often every day; what the road conditions are like and the traffic in the morning.”
Ottawa morning8:34Response to Kichi Zībī Mīkan as the proposed new name for the Sir John A MacDonald Parkway
The Ottawa area is Unceded Algonquin Territory and the river the parkway runs along is an integral part of Algonquin life.
“I once heard a Manitoba woman say that the Oldman River in Manitoba was as much of her identity as the blood in her veins,” Dumont said.
“That’s how the Algonquins feel about this river here. Really and truly.’
Macdonald’s government enforced policies that starved indigenous peoples to force them off their land and banned their ceremonies.
It also centralized and expanded an internal school system that took generations of children away from their families and sought to wipe out their cultures. There was widespread abuse and thousands of children killed, with trauma still felt today.
“Understand what Macdonald wanted to do to Indigenous peoples: he wanted them to disappear and his laws and policies are clear on that,” Dumont said.
“He is guilty of genocide. People need to think about it and process it.”
Dumont said there are people who disagree with the name change.
“You cannot compare a name that disappears from a road with him who does everything to make a people disappear.”
Dumont said he would like to see the Algonquin leaders at the renaming ceremony in September, which would include a banquet.
“Just to be able to say that something good happened and we’re happy with it and it was the right choice.”