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Squamish Nation requests return to traditional name for B.C. mountain peak

Mount Garibaldi known as Nch’ḵay̓ prior to colonization
The Squamish Nation has filed a request to the BC Geographical Names Office to change the name of Mount Garibaldi. (Unsplash/Ashwini Chaudhary)

The Squamish Nation has filed an official request to rename a popular Lower Mainland mountain peak to the word their people have been using since before colonization.

Mount Garibaldi in the Squamish language (Sḵwx̱wú7mesh sníchim) is known as “Nch’ḵay̓”, meaning “dirty place” or “grimy one.” The Nation says the name reflects the tendency of the nearby Cheekye River to turn muddy in colour as a result of volcanic debris in the area.

In their request to the BC Geographical Names Office, the Nation said the mountain is considered sacred to their people. Their oral history speaks of a time when a great flood swept through the area and Squamish people used rope made from cedar trees to tether their canoes to the top of Nch’ḵay̓ and wait out the storm.

The Nation said the mountain’s slopes are also recorded in oral history as a training ground for Xwech’tál, the serpent slayer. Nch’ḵay̓ is further used for “ceremonial purposes, navigation, weather predicting, obsidian gathering, food and plant gathering, and animal hunting,” the Nation explained in their request.

Nch’ḵay̓ is pronounced “in-ch-KAY.”

The peak was later named Mountain Garibaldi in the 1860s by a survey ship captain of the Royal Navy to commemorate the Italian General Giuseppe Garibaldi, according to the BC Geographical Names Office. The office says there are 10 other official names in B.C. that commemorate the general, but that it is unlikely he ever visited the province.

An engagement period is now underway as the BC Geographical Names Office collects comments from local governments, regional organizations and First Nations whose territories the mountain is in. They have until Dec. 31 to share their thoughts.

From there, the office will review the comments and decide whether to accept the proposed name change. It says this can take weeks or months, depending on the volume of comments received.

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