— Oliver Community League Update —

What’s in a name?

A community member’s perspective on the renaming of Oliver

In the Fall 2020 issue of The Yards, Robyn Paches, Oliver Community League President, stated “the Oliver Community League is in opposition to honouring Frank Oliver with our community name.” The Yards spoke with Oliver resident and Indigenous advocate Emily Riddle to discuss the impact of Frank Oliver’s legacy on Indigenous people today. Riddle is nehiyaw from the Alexander First Nation, located in Treaty 6 territory. She is a writer, the Senior Advisor on Indigenous Relations with the Edmonton Public Library, and is a member of the Yellowhead Institute Board of Advisors.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

The Yards: What does the name Frank Oliver mean to you? 

Emily Riddle: I grew up with this narrative around Frank Oliver establishing the first newspaper in Western Canada. As an Indigenous woman from this territory, I’ve learned that he advocated for our removal. Edmonton is home to sacred places that we were removed from for generations because of Oliver. When Oliver was Minister of the Interior, he advocated for policies that led to the removal of a component of our reserve which was only settled in a [Treaty Land Entitlement Claim] in the early 2000s for Alexander First Nation. One thing that always comes up is the argument about erasing history. Why do we always believe white people are brilliant entrepreneurs, when in reality Oliver’s entrepreneurial spirit and writing crushed Indigenous and Black people in Edmonton? Why are we celebrating this man who started a newspaper using what we lost? 

The Yards: What’s the significance of changing the name?

ER: For Indigenous people, naming is a different cultural practice. We believe names already exist in the universe, and they are given through ceremony. If you look up our names of locations in Edmonton, we didn’t name them after people, we named them after landmarks or things that happened there. I hear the argument that changing the Oliver name would mean erasing history. It means having a more robust conversation about [the name’s] effect on Indigenous and Black people. I would like the neighbourhood to be given an Indigenous name. There are a fair amount of Indigenous people that live in Oliver, but we were removed from that territory by the man the neighbourhood is named after. It shouldn’t just be residents of the neighbourhood who are deciding whether or not we should rename it.

The Yards: Any thoughts on a new name?

ER: Ideally that would be informed through ceremony and meeting with Indigenous people. The conversation needs to start around what the land was utilized for. The location of the Victoria golf course was a significant camping spot. I’ve been ruminating on it having something to do with that campsite.