A member of the Mi’kmaq Nation traditional government says adding an Indigenous name to a Prince Edward Island historic site that bears the name of a controversial British general is a “grave insult” to his people.
John Joe Sark says he is unsatisfied with Parks Canada’s recent decision to add the Mi’kmaq name “skmaqn” to the Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst National Historic Site, which is near Charlottetown.
Catherine McKenna, the federal minister responsible for Parks Canada, issued a statement on Friday confirming the official name of the site will now be Skmaqn–Port-la-Joye–Fort Amherst National Historic Site of Canada.
Sark says putting a Mi’kmaq name alongside that of General Jeffrey Amherst is “demeaning” given his contention that the British military commander tried to wipe out the Mi’kmaq by giving them smallpox-infected blankets.
McKenna said Friday that skmaqn, which means the “waiting place,” is thought to have its origins in the mid-1700s when Mi’kmaq and French leaders met annually at the site to renew their military alliance.
She has said the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada is making the change on the recommendation of the Mi’kmaq Confederacy of Prince Edward Island.
A spokeswoman for Parks Canada said in an email last year that the site does not “does not commemorate or celebrate the actions of Jeffery Amherst.”
Audrey Champagne said the board decided to keep Amherst’s name because of the site’s historical ties to the British seat of government in mid-1700s, a justification Sark disputes as historically inaccurate.
Amherst, an officer in the British army in the mid-1700s, is considered a key architect of British victories in the Seven Years’ War for control of New France territories in North America.
Montreal struck Amherst’s name from a city street last fall, and Amherst College in Massachusetts said last year the British military commander would no longer appear in school communications or as an unofficial mascot.