Little to no action has been taken to address community concerns over the name of a Calgary junior high school, who is Canada’s first Prime Minister, but also linked to the country’s residential schools, according to a local reconciliation group.
Protesters gathered outside the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) building on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Tuesday, March 21, 2023, to call for the implementation of an anti-racism agenda at the CBE.
For nearly two years, members of the Reconciliation Action Group have been asking for Sir John A Macdonald junior high school to be renamed.
“If they want reconciliation, they need to stop honouring people who have done these kinds of things against Indigenous people,” said Linda Johnson, a residential school survivor and protester.
The group has said the John A. Macdonald Junior High and John Diefenbaker High schools have carried names of historic figures that caused harm to Indigenous peoples and racist depictions of Indigenous cultures – upholding with them a historic pattern of intergenerational trauma and discrimination.
Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, was also involved in the delivery of the residential school system in Canada.
Michelle Robinson, Sahtu Dene activist and community member said the CBE hasn’t instituted the Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action.
“We’re trying to highlight the systemic racism within the CBE,” she said.
Besides the surface actions toward reconciliation–like renaming institutions carrying discriminatory representations–CBE has not taken further steps to institute a plan against demonstrations of casual and systemic racism like this, Robinson said.
“They have shown no leadership on things that could easily be done today, and then start instituting a plan against racism, and including Indigenous education and gendered violence from the National Inquiry,” Robinson said.
“Such an easy thing to do, but we’ve seen no leadership from the CBE.”
In Tuesday’s CBE Board of Trustees Meeting, Board Chair Laura Hack covered the matter in the meeting’s opening remarks.
“There is no room for racism or discrimination in any of our schools or workplaces, and the CBE has taken significant steps in the past few years to address systemic racism and promote equitable and inclusive learning and working environments. We recognize more needs to be done and we are listening and learning so we can continue to do better,” said Hack.
According to Hack, the Board of Trustees also continues its journey to consider the renaming of schools.
“We recognize that this work takes time and we are committed to conducting this work in a thoughtful manner as we consider the diverse perspectives of students, staff, families and community members,” she said.
The CBE said in May 2022 that they would look at the renaming of the school.
Mascot change also needed, says student
‘Chief,’ the mascot at John Diefenbaker High School, has caused considerable concern among Indigenous students and people close to the school for the appropriation of an Indigenous headdress.
Fernanda Ortiz, 15, an Indigenous student of Mayan descent asked one of her teachers at John Diefenbaker High for the mascot to be changed.
“It’s really unsettling, it’s turning our humanity into a mascot caricature job,” Ortiz said.
“The headdress represents thousands of years of ceremony and sacred traditions and it’s being printed on floors and shirts and so many things where it does not belong.”
The impact these depictions have on Indigenous students and their non-Indigenous peers affects the healing that needs to be done in order to practice Truth and Reconciliation, said Johnson.
“Can you imagine being taught in a school where your culture does not matter? What kind of feelings would that bring? That you don’t count,” she said.
“Will the Calgary Board of Education change the name now? I would like to see our work forward from here. There’s much to happen, and we can do that together.”