Mi’kmaw Chief Calls on Government of Prince Edward Island to Change Name of Neighboring Community

Bethany Knockwood says she hopes her young son doesn’t have to see the name Savage Harbor on a sign in the nearby community when he’s old enough to read.

So she was happy on Tuesday — National Indigenous Peoples Day — to hear Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould officially ask the provincial government to change its name.

“We are not savages,” Gould said in his speech to dozens of people gathered on the Scotchford Reservation in Prince Edward Island.

“Today I formally call upon the Premier and the Province of Prince Edward Island to change the name and get rid of the word ‘savage’. It is the year 2022. Islanders, as I I’ve said before and I always say it, we can do better.”

It’s a change that’s important for Indigenous peoples, Knockwood said.

“As a Mi’kmaq mother, knowing that he will be attending schools and interacting with neighboring communities, changing the name of Savage Harbor to something else and removing that language from his vocabulary and those of his peers, it is a good decision.”

Abegweit First Nation Chief Junior Gould says he hates to say the word “wild”. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

According to an Acadian history website, a French family was the first to settle Savage Harbor in 1725. Like many other coves and inlets on the North Shore, the bay was well used by the Mi’kmaq.

In 1730, the website says, the enumerator, possibly at the behest of early white settlers, renamed the place Havre à l’Anguille, respecting the importance of eel to the Mi’kmaq.

The English name, however, remained unchanged.

The time has come, Gould said.

Bethany Knockwood hopes her son never has to see the name Savage Harbour. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

“Savage Harbour, Savage Bay, Savage Wharf and the Savage Harbor cottage area. It’s hard for me to say. I hate to say that word,” he said.

“We invited people into our community. A large number of community members from outside Abegweit came to meet us and hear our story, why it is important to challenge the Savage Harbor name in all respects. That this is not acceptable in our day and age.”

At least one fisherman from the Savage Harbor wharf assumed the name referred to choppy water conditions. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Some people at the Savage Harbor wharf, who declined to speak publicly, said they would prefer to keep the name. Some residents said they felt intimidated and feared a name change would create confusion and expense for residents and local businesses.

A fisherman said he assumed the name referred to rough water conditions, not an insult to indigenous people.

The community of Savage Harbor wrote to the province saying they wanted to be consulted on any name changes.

Savage Harbor was first settled in 1725 by a French family, according to an Acadian history website. (Brian Higgins/CBC)

Just about any other name will do, Gould said.

“The community itself will respect any name they choose to change. We are not forcing it on you. It is about understanding who we are as a community and that includes First Nations communities and non-First Nations.”

Doreen Jenkins, a member of the Mi’kmaw community who was present for Gould’s speech, hopes everyone can come to an agreement.

“It becomes so inclusive. Rather than saying, ‘Well, you did this to us, why are you still doing this nowadays? He says “No, we’re all friends, all we’re going to do is change our name.” Give him something new.”