Chief rips 'Empire Days' moniker

Tue. May. 29/12
Chief rips 'Empire Days' moniker
Snuneymuxw leader says annual Nanaimo heritage celebration could be called 'Stolen Land Days'
Matthew Gauk

Snuneymuxw First Nation Chief Doug White is not a fan of Empire Days.

The annual spring event, which ran the weekend of May 19-20, has a name that for his people denotes oppression, displacement and dispossession, White said on Monday. Empire Days has been celebrated for 145 years in Nanaimo, but in recent years has been the subject of campaigns to have its title changed to something with which critics would be more comfortable.

The Empire Days Society has no immediate rebranding plans.

"'Empire' was not a good thing for my people. It's been an ugly, horrible experience," said White. "It's about trying to strip our very identity from ourselves."

The chief, elected in 2009, returned to Nanaimo from a UN conference in New York on indigenous issues the morning of the parade and said it was like

"arriving in a different century." For the next week, he used Twitter to broadcast his thoughts on the subject, suggesting that Empire Days was as good as calling the event "Stolen Land Days."

"I know the Americans don't have slavery day or lynching day, the Germans don't celebrate Holocaust day, I mean what the hell's this all about? This is nonsense," White. "There's a lot of admirable stuff we all have to celebrate and that's what we should be celebrating, not the ugly parts of our past and history."

Roy Linder, publicity co-ordinator for the Empire Days Society, said his organization did not want to comment on the matter.

"We just don't look at it that way. We don't look at what the empire stood for, for God's sake. It's just a matter of water (under) the bridge," he said. "We're looking at heritage. We still have Queen Victoria's birthday, that's what we're really celebrating.

We're not celebrating any conquests or anything like that."

He said most people support "Empire Days" and that his group had not seen the kind of activism against the name they saw a few years ago.

A student group at Vancouver Island University campaigned for years to have the name changed, an initiative supported variously by the Central Vancouver Island Multicultural Society and former city councillor Bill Holdom.

"It seems to come up by people who kind of isolate some of their thinking," said Linder. "At this time there's no intent to do any changing."