By Chelsea Laskowski

The Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations has taken the terms “Saskatchewan” and “Indian” out of its title after hearing passionate pleas for and against renaming the organization.

The idea of changing the name to the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations had been pitched as far back as 2013, FSIN executive members said. They put forth the motion to delegates on Wednesday at the spring session of FSIN’s Legislative Assembly in North Battleford.

A number of chiefs from FSIN’s 74 member First Nations spoke up after the motion was presented. Among them was Sakimay Chief Lynn Acoose, who opposed the continued use of the term “Indian.”

“We all have our own language to describe ourselves. When we start to accept the labels that our oppressors place upon us and our grandchildren, then we’re lost. This is an opportunity to resist those hateful labels that are placed upon our people. We are Nêhiyawak, we are Ashinabe, we are Nakota, Lakota, Dakota, and Dene,” she said.

Not all chiefs agreed, though, with one man speaking in support of keeping the term.

The term “sovereign” versus “Saskatchewan” faced similar scrutiny. Some felt the term Saskatchewan implies that FSIN is related to the provincial government.

Wahpeton Chief Leo Omani spoke – in both English and his people’s language – in favour of keeping Saskatchewan because it’s a term originating from the Cree word kisiskâciwan, or Kisiskatchewani Sipi, to describe the swift-flowing river now known as the Saskatchewan River.

To Chief Omani, the word sovereignty is not his people’s term, but a term created by the colonial government.

According to the Assembly’s Speaker, the final vote saw 22 of FSIN’s Chiefs in favour of the change, four oppose, and several abstain.

Speaking during a break at the assembly, FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said he was pleased with the discussions.

“The ones that abstained and opposed, those are the ones we’ll seek more input from, to strengthen it and make it stronger. Because we try to symbolize and we try to really push the term unity at the FSIN and that’s one way we do it,” he said.

Youth delegate Andre Bear spoke after the vote, thanking the FSIN.

“I’ve never seen a change like this since I’ve been alive. And to me, it’s a great step forward. It doesn’t matter about using different semantics of colonial terms that white people use to define our nations,” he said.

From Bear’s view, what matters is engaging and empowering young people.

“When we have the opportunity to remind our youth that we are sovereign peoples, and it’s something as simple as this name change, it’s something worth doing.”

The name change won’t expand FSIN beyond its current scope.

Afterwards, there were points of order made by several delegates, questioning if the vote on the name change was legitimate, due to a lack of quorum. That was eventually cleared up.

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