(Contributed)New school in Albion will have First Nations name.

Maple Ridge’s new c’usqunela elementary is easy to say

People will quickly pick up pronunciation, says board chair

  • Aug. 27, 2018 12:00 a.m.

The First Nations word c’usqunela is the name selected by the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows school district for the new elementary school in the Albion area of Maple Ridge.

The school district selected the name after it was suggested by Fern Gabriel, a language and cultural teacher for Kwantlen First Nation. The school on 104th Avenue opens a year from now.

The name means, “Where the golden eagles gather,” and is written in the International Phonetic Alphabet.

While some may struggle with reading the phonetic alphabet, people only have to hear the name once, says school board chair Mike Murray.

“People will know how to pronounce it as soon as they hear it. c’usqunela – it’s very easy. It’s not that tough,” Murray said Monday.

He added that using the phonetic alphabet is being respectful of the local indigenous culture from which the name came.

“This is how our indigenous people would spell that name and they are offering the name to us spelled that way, so we feel it’s appropriate for us to accept that.”

The phonetic spelling will appear on the new school’s exterior, but the alternative spelling using the English alphabet will be used where needed, Murray said.

A school district policy says that it’s appropriate to use local history as a basis for school names, he added.

“So we did really feel … that was an appropriate acknowledgment to incorporate a First Nations name into a new school, and particularly now when we’re advancing First Nations learning into our curriculum, ” Murray said.

Katzie First Nation Chief Grace Cunningham said her interpretation of the name is that golden eagles are sacred beings, just as children are.

Cunningham also said it’s important the first language of Canada be recognized.

“As First Peoples of these lands, we are proud to say we are able to teach, speak and embrace our mother tongue. Our language dialects vary from nation to nation and many of our languages were nearly lost through various acts of cultural genocide,” said Cunningham.

She added that knowledge sharing, education and awareness are important aspects of the Katzie First Nation, who have occupied the area for more than 12,000 years.

“Knowledge sharing is important and continues on with our next generations and we are willing to share with those who are open to learning more about who we are. Raising this awareness brings strength to us all, and breaks down the barriers that oppression, racism, and diversity can create.”

Chief Cunningham believes that reconciliation cannot be discussed until people truly strive to understand each other.

“Sadly, I’ve seen many negative comments on social media about the name of this school and it’s only one word. This tells me we have a long way to go. This is a good start.”

Clifford Atleo, an environmental management professor at SFU and member of the Ahousaht First Nation on Vancouver Island, said First Nations often use both phonetic and English spelling. But relying on the English alphabet can lead to mispronunciation of the name.

Phonetic spelling “represents the most accurate way to pronounce it.”

School board trustee Susan Carr, who’s running for Maple Ridge council this Oct. 20, said a tutorial explaining the name and its pronunciation will be posted on the school’s website soon.

“The process was excellent. It was great to work with the First Nations groups.”

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