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What's in a Name?: Language, Biodiversity and Reconciliation

Today is the first ever National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in Canada as a federal statutory holiday. Perhaps you have already seen the symbols of the orange shirt, of links to resources and courses and the calls to take pause and reflect.


As part of my own reflection, I am thinking of the power of names and nomenclature, and of who names (or gets to name). Linguists, anthropologists, interculturalists and even speakers of multiple languages inform us how language, including how name things, shapes our understanding, perceptions, even our cognition of the world around us.


In Canada, the two official languages of English and French have named places, rivers, lakes, peoples, as well as plants and animals that make up the majesty of the country. In a gesture to reflect on this settler #colonization and to contemplate how we can recognize the power of names, I suggest the following: what if we re-named these 'Canadian' realities of fauna and flora, of land and lake, with the various Indigenous languages?


I was spurred by this thought by reading an article

about an Anishinaabe plant medicine teacher who is actively reclaiming #Anishinaabe names of plants and trees. In this way, this teacher is seeking to reclaim an Anishinaabe ecological worldview that also might show us, a new way to re-imagine and reconcile our relationships with the lands around us. Moreover, it might suggest, some environemntalists and researchers suggest, a gesture towards improving our responses to climate change. Apparently, #linguistic diversity is linked to #biodiversity! By preserving the #Indigenous names of plants, we can better understand #Indigenous knowledge of the very land that is now being negatively impacted by climate change.


So, the power of names could lead to a shift in our consciousness and cultural and geographical understandings of the places we inhabit, not only in Canada, but applied to around the world. It is a step towards the ladder of #intercultural #competence and fluency, of understanding our world through the words and views of another culture. In Canada, it is a gesture of #reconciliation and #reclamation.




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