Multilingual road signs are crucial for cultural inclusivity

Image Credit: Alanah Heffez (Flickr)
Image Credit: Alanah Heffez (Flickr)
Image Credit: Alanah Heffez (Flickr)

The City of Kamloops recently denied a proposal from Councilor Donovan Cavers to add the word “estil,” meaning “stop” in the Aboriginal language Secwepemc, to their traffic stop signs. The council’s reasoning was clear: To add the word violates the Motor Vehicle Act. An additional language could prove to be hazardous, as drivers could become confused, which could be potentially dangerous.

Such changes to these traffic signs should not be seen as a “driving hazard,” as multilingual road signs are in place in other parts of the country. Although Cavers’s proposal contravened provincial law, such a proposal was a positive step in respecting local First Nations culture and promoting racial equality.

To address the issue of multilingual signs as driving hazards: if they truly are, then bilingual stop signs in eastern Canadian provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island would be driving hazards as well. There are even road signs containing both English and Chinese in Richmond. However, these signs are not viewed as driving hazards, according to the laws in these regions.

It is unsurprising for Cavers to make such a bold move in calling for the acknowledgment of Shuswap history.

Contrary to our provincial government’s beliefs, multilingual signs help non-English speakers reduce risk while driving. Moreover, these signs show respect and inclusivity to different cultural populations, which is a big step in making a more tolerable, free, and equal society. Declining the use of multilingual signs is a big deal, as it rejects racial equality by promoting ignorance toward the Secwepemc language and people.

A better resolution would be for provincial laws to take into consideration the culture, history, and language of regions such as Kamloops. They might even consider multilingual headers on drivers’ licences, as speakers of other languages might be less confused in reading the important information on these cards.

Today, many Secwepemc people still live in Kamloops, and have tried hard to preserve their language through different projects. The Secwepemc language plays such a great role in this culture, that it is unsurprising for an activist like Cavers to make such a bold move in calling for the acknowledgment of Shuswap history.

Cavers’ language proposal should be commended as a step forward on the long road to equality — a prospect that our multicultural nation should continue to push for. Before we can fully recognize Aboriginal culture in Kamloops and cultural equality among Canadians from all backgrounds, provincial laws that promote cultural inclusivity must be created.