lək̓ʷəŋən place names reclaimed at University of Victoria

After two years of consultation with the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations, two lək̓ʷəŋən names were given to new student housing buildings
Qwul’sih’yah’maht Robina Thomas, University of Victoria’s vice-president Indigenous, outside Čeqʷəŋín ʔéʔləŋ (Cheko’nien House), the university’s new student housing and dining building. Photo courtesy of the University of Victoria

“As an Indigenous student I feel so proud today,” exclaimed Chésa Abma-Slade, a University of Victoria (UVic) Law student and Esquimalt Nation member, as the lək̓ʷəŋən names Čeqʷəŋín and Sŋéqə were given to the university’s new student housing and dining buildings.

The first of the two new buildings was completed last year and is now named Čeqʷəŋín ʔéʔləŋ (Cheko’nien House). The second building will be completed in September 2023 and is called Sŋéqə ʔéʔləŋ (Sngequ House). 

Čeqʷəŋín ʔéʔləŋ means “Village of Big Fire,” while Sŋéqə translates to “snow patches.” Both are names of lək̓ʷəŋən village sites from the land the university currently sits on and around. 

“We are taught in the language that taking care of the land, and ourselves, is one and the same,” said Songhees Councillor Norman (Garry) Sam. 

“We learned our songs, our language, and our ways of healing by being with the land.”

Councillor Sam was present to share the importance of both names, as well as the intergenerational connection they have to the land.

“We take hospitality very seriously in Songhees,” he said, as he helped those present with the pronunciation and translation of the names. 

“We hold them close to lək̓ʷəŋən names and culture.” 

lək̓ʷəŋən Dancers surround Myrna Crossley, Songhees weaver, and Songhees Elder and language keeper Seniemten, Elmer George, are recognized and honoured at naming ceremony and unveiling at the University of Victoria on April 5. Photo courtesy of the University of Victoria

In 2021, following suggestions from Abma-Slade and other Indigenous students, the university brought its plans and intentions to the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations in an effort to have meaningful and respectful collaboration on the naming process.

In turn they were referred to Elder Dr. Elmer Seniemten George, one of the last fluent lək̓ʷəŋən speakers. He has made it his life’s work to revitalise the language. 

Elder George worked with UVic to share the names Čeqʷəŋín and Sŋéqə, and was present for both the ceremony and the sign unveiling. His grandfather was from Čeqʷəŋin and Sŋéqə, illustrating the intergenerational connection with these names.

“The guidance of local Elders has been essential to this work, and I am forever grateful for the endless knowledge and heart that they bring to support UVic students and staff,” said Abma-Slade.

“I just think about how powerful it is for me to see this change within my lifetime. It’s a really powerful thing to get to witness.”

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