It’s a step in the right direction but the group calling on the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) to rename Sir John A. Macdonald School says it doesn’t go far enough, fast enough.
The CBE announced on Monday morning that it passed a motion on April 26 to form a name review committee for Sir John A. Macdonald School to decide on the renaming of the controversially named school.
Macdonald was Canada’s first prime minister, authorizing the creation of Canada’s residential school system in 1883 that removed Indigenous children from their homes.
In the past year, hundreds of unmarked graves have been found at former sites of residential schools across the country.
The CBE speaks
The board says they heard the increasing calls for the renaming of the school from stakeholders, including students, says Ward 3 CBE school trustee and board chair Laura Hack.
“We’ve had community members and students reaching out about changing the name, not changing the name. But it was a good idea to bring it to the board’s attention,” Hack says.
While there normally needs to be a petition with 5,000 names to spark such a move, in this case, the board passed a motion to create a name review committee to decide on the fate of the school’s name.
“The board is committed to conducting this work in a thoughtful manner that considers the diverse perspectives of students, staff, families, and community members,” Hack says, adding this process is a first for the CBE.
The next step is for the board to confirm who will sit on the committee, which will be comprised of seven individuals including trustees, CBE staff, the school council chair, and members of the community — though there’s no timeline or details on if a member of the Indigenous community will be chosen.
“We know that this is going to take some time. It’s a long, thoughtful process. But it needs to be done in a good way.”
A step in the right direction, but not enough
Calgary’s Reconciliation Action Group has been calling on the CBE to rename the school, holding several events to raise awareness and most recently adding some historians’ names to the calls. We wrote about those stories here and here.
The group’s founder Michelle Robinson spoke with Calgary Citizen Monday, saying while it’s a step in the right direction, they’re concerned the process is going to take too long.
“It’s a relief; at least we’re moving forward a little. I think that this particular institution has been one of the lest to act when it comes to reconciliation. So, to see them actually do something is such a huge thing,” Robinson says, adding she hopes they move forward quickly but had some strong criticism.
“I’m disappointed that it’s a committee, they have the ability to do so much more and quicker. In the meantime, they could just change the name. It is clear they don’t understand what reconciliation is.”
Doing the right thing
Calgary Citizen reader Ian Clarke felt compelled to call on the school board to change the name. He spent his 39-year career in historic preservation and historic site management, also working with the University of Calgary.
“I am deeply familiar with our political and social history, and have long been aware of the role a number of our national politicians played in establishing and perpetuating racial policies such as Asian exclusion and the destruction of Indigenous culture,” he wrote to the board, adding Macdonald was in the forefront of these policies.
“I have always stood for truth in history, and the truth is that while Macdonald should be remembered, he should not be commemorated in our country. I believe this is especially true within our school system where his name should not be a label that our children have to work under and to remember as the school they attended.”
Clarke asks the school board to move decisively to change the name to one “they can truly be proud of.”
Last year, the CBE renamed Langevin School to Riverside School after similar calls.