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Hundreds of Innu names added to maps of Labrador

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Just under 10 years ago, the government of Newfoundland and Labrador started having two official names for landmarks and features on maps of Labrador, English and Innu Aimun.

Recently, 452 names were added to that list, greatly expanding it.

Peter Armitage, an anthropologist who has been working on this project since the beginning, said it the government was definitely ahead of its time.

“This was at its time innovative because they adopted a two name approach,” he said. “Other jurisdictions in Canada, and I believe there are still some to this day, allow only one official name, you can't have two official names. I thought this was ingenious on the part of the provincial government doing away with the competition between names.”

Armitage said he worked in Northern Ontario and all the place names there were put in place by the provincial government.

“If those days they named everything after loyalties, members of the survey crew, you name it,” he said. “In a flash it obliterated all the indigenous names for the different parts of the land. That makes what’s happening in Labrador more complicated. There a good number of indigenous names already on the map, particularly in the coastal area.”

Many of the names are translations and revised versions of Innu Aimun names that existed long before English became a spoken language in Labrador. Such names as Minipi Lake, which comes from the Innu word manainipi, which means Burbot (a type of fish) Lake.

“This project fixed up the spelling and cleared up the meaning of some of those place names already on the map and then added a lot more,” he said. “Because of this official process a lot of the names were made official and legal so they can be used in property transactions, boundary discussions, and all kinds of things.”

The names are compiled on a website, www.innuplaces.ca, maintained by Armitage and others. It is the first comprehensive cultural website dedicated to place names for the Innu. The website is called Pepamuteiati Nitassinat (As We Walk Across Our Land.)

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