Why does the name change matter? 
Changing the name of Powell River reflects our shared commitment, as governments, communities, and individuals, to caring and respectful relationships, truth and reconciliation in action, and to create a better future together.   
     Place-names, before colonization, illustrate “deep connection to land and reflects the area’s cultural significance. It is important to consider the histories of place names, appreciating where they come from, what they mean, and what they can teach us about our environment (…) renaming holds the potential to acknowledge Indigenous history, celebrate Indigenous resilience and move forward together in a spirit of reconciliation” (Johnson-sɛƛakəs and Kirsten Van’t Schip, 2021). 

[See: Place Names Document, map, and database of Ayajuthem & English place   names within the region (2016-2018), Tla’amin Nation and Powell River Historical Museum & Archives.]

    As European settlers arrived, they replaced existing place names with personal names (people they considered important or of status). This act is deliberate and part of harmful practices, laws, and policies that intend to assimilate Indigenous peoples; it is part of settler-colonialism (occupation of another Nation’s lands, imposing the colonizer’s laws, language, customs, and economic systems to gain dominance and benefit from resources). Powell is no exception – he was a government official who did not live or work in this area and developed and encouraged policies, laws, and programs that harmed Indigenous peoples.  
    Given this, the question might more appropriately be: Why would we want to hold onto this name and this legacy?  
    Hegus for the Tla’amin Nation: “In the spirit of reconciliation and qathet (working together), let’s find a more respectful and inclusive name that is more reflective of both the oral history of these lands and the present-day collaborative communities.” 

      At the May 12, 2021, 3C meeting (3C is made up of representatives from Tla’amin Nation, qathet Regional District, and the City of Powell River), the Tla’amin Nation Executive Council requested the mayor Council to change the name of the City of Powell River. On June 21, 2021, they followed up with a letter to the City (read it here). Here is a short excerpt: 
    “If the City believes in reconciliation, it must disassociate our homelands with the name of Israel Powell, a man who was instrumental in carrying out the residential school policy and is credited with outlawing the potlatch. This legacy has been devastating to our people, inflicting severe generational trauma and causing irreversible loss to our culture and language” (Tla’amin Nation Executive Council, 2021).  
    The City of Powell River has committed to reconciliation in many formal agreements, including The Community Accord (a guiding document between the City and the Nation) and has adopted both the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP). This place-name change is one way to take meaningful action that prioritizes safety and dignity for all. 
     “Tla’amin are looking for a different pivot. They say reconciliation must include demonstrated respect for their heritage and the return and protection of their cultural artifacts. Ideally, they say, it would include renaming the town itself. The new name would celebrate the people whose ancestors have been here for thousands of years, rather than the man who came to steal and colonize, Israel Powell.” (full article here). 

We ask: Why does the name change matter to you? If you don’t want it to change, why not?  Or maybe you are somewhere in between?  Wherever you are at, as you read through the material we offer here, we hope you will be inspired to learn more, talk with us and those around you, and support the name change in whatever way you can. 

     "For me, as a settler and guest-in-learning here, this initiative is about solidarity and care, coming together to repair harms and nurture healing, and continuing to grow into relationships of peace, trust, and accountability. It is an opportunity to use my power as a citizen and come alongside this move in the right direction for all of us who reside here on the territories of the Tla'amin Nation. It is love in action; it is an action of Truth & Reconciliation".
   - The Name Matters team member 

Who was Powell? 
    Dr. Israel Powell (1836-1915) was born in Ontario, studied medicine in Montreal and landed in Victoria (a former colony of Vancouver Island) in 1862 until he died. He was a physician, elected official (1866-1868), and served as British Columbia’s first Superintendent of Indian Affairs for twenty years (1872-1892). As Superintendent, he was also appointed Lieutenant-General of the militia (the government thought the military would need to be used to dominate, control, and assimilate the Indigenous peoples of the land). 

What did he do as Superintendent?  
    Alongside government officials, business partners, and other colleagues, Powell focused primarily on making and supporting laws and policies to eliminate Indigenous culture, religious practices, education, and government structures and replace them with Euro-Christian ones (assimilation). While he did advocate for water rights and larger reserves, he primarily saw this support as a way to encourage Indigenous peoples to give up their ways of life and take on Euro-Christian ways. His work included, but is not limited to: banning the practice of potlach (1883 -1951); encouraging use of fines and jail time to stop Indigenous cultural practices (e.g. dancing, gathering in large groups); advocating for residential schools and industrial schools; personally collecting and shipping First Nations cultural belongings and skeletal remains to museums throughout the world; surveillance (watching over) First Nations people, including the Tla’amin Nation, to limit their freedom, expression, access to land and resources, cultural life and livelihoods. 

[See: Israel Powell Israel Wood Powell’s Legacy (2021), Know History. The Powell in Powell River (2021), Dr. Colin Osmond.]

So, why was our town named after him? 
    We don’t know why Tis’kwat (the original name for the area by the river) was renamed after Powell. Historical reports show that in 1880, Powell was travelling up the coast in the HMS Rocket and remarked on the river and the area's industrial potential. The Rocket Captain recorded the river as Powell River to honour the Superintendent (and it seems to have stuck!). As far as we can tell, there are no records of him visiting the land itself, and he did not invest in the economic development of this area (in business or otherwise).  
    The City of Powell River was established as a company town by The Powell River Company in 1910. The Powell River Company was owned by the Brooks brothers and M.J Scanlon, who came up to the area in the early 1900s from Minnesota to start a paper mill operation. In 1955, the various villages in our area (Wildwood, Cranberry, etc.) were combined and became the Municipality of Powell River (Powell River Museum, 2021). 

 What is the process to change the City’s name? 
    The Joint Working Group (JWG) is responsible for the name change process. The JWG comprises two Tla’amin Legislators, two members of the City Council, two appointees of the Tla’amin Nation, and two appointees of the City. The Hegus of Tla’amin Nation and the Mayor of Powell River are also members because of their official titles and responsibilities (ex-officio members). The Joint Working Group will be co-Chaired, with one Chair appointed by the Tla’amin Legislature and one appointed by the City Council. The first meeting of the JWG was on November 26, 2021. The first tasks of the JWG are developing terms of reference (what are they doing and how will they do it), a communications plan, and working together to create the next steps. 
    This process is guided by the Community Accord (2018). Initially created in 2003, the Community Accord drives the formal relationship between the Tla’amin Nation and the City of Powell River. It is built on six principles: mutual recognition, principles of cooperation, maintenance of the relationship, inclusion and information of the community at large, dispute resolution, and the Accord is a living document (subject to change over time).

[See: Joint Working Group Tla’amin Nation and City of Powell River Shared Vision for City Renaming Process Engagement; Community Accord (2018) 

Who will pay for the change? How much does it cost? 

"The City of Powell River Council and Tla’amin Nation each allocated $20,000 to provide project funding to support this public engagement process. Additional funding will be provided by grants and other sources of financing that may contribute to project costs. There will be no impact on taxes from the engagement.

If City Council decides to move forward with a name change:

  • Costs for implementing a name change for other jurisdictions have ranged from approximately $50,000 to $100,000. Charges can generally be incurred as part of existing budgets or spread out over several years as items and supplies required replacing" (Source: Joint Working Group)

Sources + Resources

City Renaming Process (Learn more here)

Letter from Tla’amin Nation (June 21, 2021): Re: Proposed Name Change
City of Powell River Memorandum (July 13, 2021): Proposed Name Change 
City of Powell River, Committee of the Whole Meeting (Tuesday, October 19, 2021): 5.6 Possible City Renaming Process 
City of Powell River Report: Possible City Renaming Process Engagement (October 19, 2021). 


The Ayajuthem language radiates across territory (Auger, Jan 11, 2021), The Toronto Star.
Viewpoint: Some things aren’t worth fighting over (Hackett, May 2021), Powell River Peak. 
Place names suggest deep connection to Tla’amin lands (Johnson-sɛƛakəs & Van’t Schip , September 20, 2021), Powell River Peak.
Powell River exploring possible name change (Landreville, October 21, 2021), My Powell River Now.
Powell River Wrestles with Changing Its Colonial Name (Smith, November 26, 2021), The Tyee.

Tla’amin Nation

As I Remember It Teachings (Ɂəms tɑɁɑw) from the Life of a Sliammon Elder, Elsie Paul with Davis McKenzie, Paige Raibmon & Harmony Johnson
First Voices: Learn to speak Ayajuthem

Taxumajehjeh: An intergenerational and international language immersion home where ʔayʔajuθəm is living, people feel safe and participate in healing and building community through collective learning and sharing. Workshops, community events, resources, and language classes. 
Tla’amin Nation website 

Truth & Reconciliation 

ORANGE SHIRT DAY: Every Child Matters, “Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation”, September 30. 
Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action
UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).




Ayajuthem: This language is spoken by the Tla’amin (ɬaʔaʔmɛn), K'omoks, Klahoose, and Homalco First Nations on the central east coast of Vancouver Island, qathet Regional District (includes Tla’amin Nation & City of Powell River), and the islands in between.

Assimilation: To actively and deliberately exterminate Indigenous culture, religious practices, education, and government structures, and replace with Euro-Christian ones.

Settler-colonialism: Occupation of another Nation’s lands, imposing the colonizer’s laws, language, customs, and economic systems in order to gain dominance and benefit from resources; settler-colonialism is an ongoing, everyday reality (of which all are implicated) in settler-nations, like Canada.

Place names: The Tla’amin Nation named places throughout this area thousands of years ago; many of these names are still known because of the resilience and strength of Ayajuthem speakers who kept their language alive despite policies, laws, and residential schools practices that attempted to destroy the language alongside the culture. 
    Many of the places now hold both European and Ayajuthum names, however, European/English names are often more commonly known. Here are a couple examples: 
    ʔahʔǰumɩχʷ (Ah joo miexw) refers to it being a flat clear ground, a beautiful grassy area. Also known as Willingdon Beach, named after Lord Willingdon, the Governor General of Canada who visited Powell River and opened the park in 1928. 

     qʷɛqʷɛyqʷɛy (Qweh qwee qwey) means Little Sandy Beach. Also known as Gibson's Beach​ named after Ken Gibson, a Wildwood Alderperson in the 1950/60’s.

Want to learn more? View a list, including audio clips of pronunciation, here. 

Potlatch: a ceremony integral to governance, sociocultural and spiritual traditions of various First Nations living on the Pacific Northwest Coast.


Reconciliation: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) defines reconciliation as an ongoing process of establishing and maintaining respectful relationships [See: Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) Calls to Action]



We believe in compassionate conversations that help us move toward respect and inclusion. We hope this section informs, raises awareness, and supports you in meaningful conversations with family, friends, colleagues, strangers, and other folks in your life.


Check out the Definitions list at the bottom of the page, refer to the many learning resources we offer on this website for more info; or contact our team!

Have a question you would like to see on the list? Please email us at whythenamematters@gmail.com

Also see: the FAQ page of the Joint Working Group (read more here)

Beyond these questions:
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