Former chief of Snuneymuxw First Nation 'shocked' by name of new BC ferry

Ferry name rankles chief

A former chief and councillor of the Snuneymuxw First Nation says he is “shocked and outraged” that a new ferry set to serve the Nanaimo-Gabriola Island route has been given a name in the Kwakwaka’wakw language from the ‘Na?mg?is First Nation, based in Alert Bay.

B.C. Ferries named its latest Island-class ferry Gwawis, meaning Raven of the Sea, and says the name was selected with “input and support” from the ‘Na?mg?is First Nation. The other Island-class ferry set to serve the route this year, Kwigwis (Eagle of the Sea), was also named by the ‘Na?mg?is Nation.

Doug White says the name “shows a lack of regard” for the Snuneymuxw people, since the ferry will ply waters in the heart of the Snuneymuxw First Nation.

“It’s shocking in this day and age of reconciliation and territorial acknowledgement,” said White, a lawyer appointed as Queen’s Council in 2020 and a member of the B.C. First Nations Leadership Council.

But B.C. Ferries spokeswoman Deborah Marshall said the names of the Island Class ships are not related to the territories or routes on which they may operate.

“The ships are identical, standardized and inter-operable,” she said. “They will be moved around the fleet as operational necessity dictates.”

Marshall said several Indigenous nations and communities, including the Snuneymuxw, were invited to engage in the name-selection process.

Four of the six new Island-class ferries have First Nations names — Island K’ulut’a (Porpoise) and Island Nagalis (Dawn on the Land) — named by the WeiWaiKum and WeWaiKai; and Island Gwawis (Raven of the Sea) and Island Kwigwis (Eagle of the Sea), named by the ‘Namgis First Nation. The other two vessels are the Island Aurora, currently serving the Port McNeill to Alert Bay and Sointula routes, and the Island Discovery.

The company also partners with the Brentwood Bay-based First Peoples’ Cultural Council to commission original artwork from Indigenous artists for the interior of the ferries.

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