A member of Whitehorse city council is looking into a claim that the naming of the Spook Creek area has a racist origin.
Coun. Steve Roddick spoke with the News on June 4 about the complaint.
“This was an issue that was initially brought to my attention through social media and I have tried to look into it a bit to better understand the situation,” Roddick said.
He outlined the concern about the racial undertone of the name Spook Creek. In the social media correspondence, Roddick was told that the name allegedly originated from a group of U.S. soldiers that stopped in that area during the construction of the Alaska Highway. The soldiers were African-American, thus, he explained the word “spook” likely could have a racist connotation to it.
“That is the root of the concern,” Roddick said.
Roddick said he has not thus far been able to find evidence to validate this alleged origin.
“I’ve tried to do some research online and I have some outstanding calls and messages to local historians for example, but I have not verified the history of the creek yet,” Roddick said.
He wanted to look into this because it could be a problematic place name. He said he’s been aware of this issue for a while but has not acted on it yet due to the uncertainty about the name.
He pointed out that this name might no longer be in use. He said he could not find it on the Yukon place name website but it is used on the Whitehorse bus map as the Spook Creek transit stop.
He added that some buildings in the area share that name, like the Spook Creek Station. He feels changing the name would be a good move considering the increased attention on racism since the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25. Floyd, a Black man, died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for nearly nine minutes while arresting. Floyd’s death has sparked protests worldwide and the officer, Derek Chauvin, has since been charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers at the scene have also been charged with aiding and abetting.
“The protests that we’re seeing have driven renewed attention to these areas,” Roddick said.
He said the city is looking to update its Official Community Plan and set new transit routes. In this process, the transit stop name could be changed.
Roddick said he would support changing the name on city documents if the story proves to be true. If the research shows the story is not true, he would want to have consultations with First Nations and Black people on potential renaming, he said.
As for changing the name of the geographical area, the process would have to include the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwach’an Council.
He was able to say that city council has had internal discussions about the name, but could not give details on these discussions.
He added that the city has an Indigenous place name project, which aims to rename areas in the city.
Contact Gord Fortin at firstname.lastname@example.org