BC Ferries changes name of vessel servicing Penelakut Island to honour Indigenous heritage

BC Ferries changes name of vessel servicing Penelakut Island to honour Indigenous heritage

It’s been more than a decade since Penelakut Island was renamed. It was formerly known as Kuper Island, named after a British Royal Navy captain who surveyed the island in 1851. Today, the ferry that services Penelakut Island, is also being re-titled to move away colonial ties and to better reflect the Indigenous people it serves.

From Kuper to now Pune’luxutth, BC Ferries is taking an unusual step in the maritime world in renaming the vessel that links Penelakut Island and its Tribes to Vancouver Island.

“It also rights a wrong that I think went uncorrected for too long,” said Nicolas Jimenez, BC Ferries CEO.

Thirteen years ago Penelakut Island’s name was changed from Kuper Island. It’s a colonial name that for Penelakut people holds much pain.

“It’s always said under here, there are babies buried,” Ray Charlie, a Kuper Island Residential School survivor told CHEK News in 2021.

Kuper Island Residential School was run by the Catholic church and closed in 1975. There are countless stories of the horrific sexual and physical abuse that happened there.

But no longer does the ferry which Penelakut tribes rely on to get around, reflect that dark history.

“This is a very special day for us to witness. This is part of history,” said James Charlie. “I can’t get over how I had to ride in the car deck, couldn’t go upstairs, now they’re naming a vessel after our territory. It’s beautiful. It’s a beginning.”

For BC Ferries, the new name reflects the important recognition that they sail the same coastal waterways, the highways, that Indigenous people have forever.

“Like the western world we don’t like to rename a vessel. We don’t like to rename canoes either. We would have one name and it would remain that until the cedar went back to the dust. But the gesture is very unique and special because that’s our territory, Pune’luxutth, that’s who we are,” said Charlie.

“May it bring fair winds and good fortune to all those who sail on board,” said Jimenez.

Kori SidawayKori Sidaway

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