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Symbols of hope

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If there is a lasting legacy to Montreal’s 375th birthday extravaganza, let it be the new era of acknowledgment and respect for they city’s Indigenous people, heralded Tuesday amid much fanfare by Mayor Denis Coderre.

That would be a positive direction for Montreal to head in the future, and a constructive way to mark the history of a place that spans — not 375 years as all the signs and memorabilia proclaim — but millennia.

What is today the island of Montreal was once known as Tiotia:ke, meaning “where the currents meet,” in the language of the Kanien’kehá:ka people, the first residents. The Kaniatarowanenneh, the original name for the St. Lawrence River, which translates as “big waterway” in Mohawk, was a conduit for transportation and trade, dating back thousands of years. Hochelaga, the lost Iroquois village that explorer Jacques Cartier visited in 1535 on or near Mount Royal, might be considered the original borough.

In the more than 400 years since Europeans first arrived in the place we call Montreal and began to claim it as their own, the city is slowly coming to terms with its often cruel and inhumane treatment of its initial inhabitants. And it is attempting to right some of the wrongs that continue to reverberate in the high rates of homelessness and hopelessness among Montreal’s Indigenous population, which has grown 177 per cent over the last decade.


© Montreal Gazette