National Indigenous Peoples Day 2022: recognition through place names

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research and Designation Program

Place names are an integral part of cultural heritage. In recognition of National Indigenous Peoples Day, the Geographical names Board of Canada has released a dataset of Indigenous place names. The dataset contains about 20,000 names confirmed or reasonably believed to be of Indigenous origin, First Nations, Inuit or Métis. The names have been pulled from the Canadian Geographical Names Database, which is populated with toponymic information from the provincial and territorial naming authorities.

The dataset can be viewed online and is also available with other accompanying documentation from the Government of Canada’s Open Government portal. It can be downloaded in CSV, KML and SHP formats as well as a Web Map Service. Toponomy is an ever changing field with new names being adopted and new knowledge of existing names being discovered. Moving forward, the dataset will be updated weekly to capture these additions and changes. The dataset is freely accessible, but is subject to the Government of Canada’s Open Government License. 

Screenshot of the Indigenous Place Names Dataset web viewer. Source: Natural Resources Canada, 2022.

Where possible, the language of origin of each place name is identified. In numerous cases, known Indigenous names have been shortened, simplified or otherwise changed to conform with European languages and naming practises, often obscuring the original Indigenous origin of the name. In many such cases as this, the dataset catalogued these names as “undetermined” pending further knowledge about the name. Other names are noted as “uncoded” because that language of origin is not yet recognized by the ISO language coding standards.

In addition to the release of the Indigenous Names Dataset, the Geographical Names Board of Canada has also updated the Stories from the Land: Indigenous Places Names in Canada thematic map. First released in 2019, the interactive map is a subset of Indigenous place names with associated images and documents. This year, 125 names have been added to the map, including Anû Kathâ Îpa (Bald Eagle Peak) near Canmore. These additions reflect naming decisions that have occurred since the map’s release and the growing understanding of Indigenous naming traditions, practise and knowledge. Like the dataset, this thematic map will continue to be updated to reflect naming decisions and new knowledge about Indigenous place names.

Screenshot of the Anû Kathâ Îpa entry on the Stories from the Land: Indigenous Place Names in Canada interactive map. Source: Natural Resources Canada, 2022.

Place names are an essential aspect of cultural heritage and the documentation of Indigenous place names and the dissemination of this knowledge is essential for the preservation of language and heritage and a step on the path towards reconciliation. 

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