In response to the recent discovery of a grave containing the remains of 215 First Nations children at a former Residential School in Kamloops, BC, several cities across Alberta are considering renaming schools, train stations and other public places that are named after residential school architects.
In Edmonton, citizens are calling for the removal of namesakes for Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin, who is considered by many to be an early advocate of the residential school system.
For example, the Bishop Grandin lobbied the Canadian government to fund residential schools in the late 1800s.
“We instil in them a pronounced distaste for the (Indigenous) life so that they will be humiliated when reminded of their origin,” Grandin was quoted as saying. “When they graduate from our institutions, the children have lost everything (Indigenous) except their blood.”
Edmonton has a train station named the Grandin/Government Centre LRT where an incredibly large mural depicting the Bishop and a Residential School stands. If you’ve ever ridden the LRT in Edmonton, then you’ve probably seen his face.
A petition has been started since the tragic discovery that demands the LRT station and mural be changed. It has so far reached 2300 signatures.
Rob Houle, Indigenous heritage liaison with the Edmonton Heritage Council, has advocated for the removal of all namesakes which honour those who have caused harm to Indigenous people.
“When you have people like that being honoured and their names being carried forward, and now we have more of these truths coming out, I think it’s time to have a frank and open conversation on whether or not the good or the achievements that they would have done in their lifetime are worth some of the violations that they’ve committed.”
“For me and for Indigenous people, it’s usually not a zero-sum conversation, the good does not outweigh the bad,” concluded Houle.
While Edmonton’s bylaws do not contain a renaming process, recommendations are currently being made by the city’s independent naming committee. The report is to go to council August 24.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said, “These are complex questions that require a deep community engagement, and the city has been committed to that in the past on this issue, and we remain committed to that.
“We hear the anger and the outrage that are behind these calls for change and for justice.”
There is also a Catholic school in the city named Grandin Catholic elementary school and the Catholic School Board of Edmonton (ECSB) has been considering a name change.
“The discovery has underscored the need for all parts of society, including school jurisdictions, to re-examine the use of namesakes that are tied to the legacy of residential schools,” said ECSB board chair Sandra Palazzo.
St. Albert Catholic Schools, where Grandin lived, has also formed an ad-hoc committee to review the names of all schools in the Division.
However, the city of St. Albert itself does not have any plans to change any of the Bishop’s namesake structures.
“At this point, the city does not have any consultations scheduled on renaming options, but we are seeking the guidance of our local Indigenous partners and will be actively exploring that potential in the near future,” wrote St Albert spokesperson Cory Sinclair.
In Calgary, public school officials have changed the name of the “Langevin School” to “Riverside School.”
Hector-Louis Langevin, who the school is named after, is also considered an architect of the residential school system.
Marilyn Dennis, chair of the Calgary Board of Education trustees, said that “we felt it was really important to create distance between the CBE and the name Langevin as part of our ongoing work in truth and reconciliation.”
“We’re really hopeful that with the new Riverside School, the community can embrace the new name and work in developing a new identity.”
However, before the remains of 215 children were found, the school board called any attempt to change the name out-of-order, with the chair Dennis saying that the issue would be brought up at a later date. Talks of the change started again this week prompted by the discovery of the mass grave in Kamloops.
The Calgary Catholic School District however, is still getting feedback from Indigenous populations about how to move forward with their school, the Bishop Grandin High School.
“When it comes to the possible renaming of a CCSD school(s), the Board of Trustees will be considering feedback from stakeholders such as parents, staff, students, Catholic Bishops and Elders in our Indigenous community,” said CCSD spokeswoman Sandra Borowski.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has described the potential name changes to cancel-culture. He argued that it would be beneficial for students to learn about Canadian history — including periods of injustice — rather than trying to “cancel” the history of this false-state.
He also said that many prominent Canadians have done some bad things, “But if we want to get into cancelling every figure in our history who took positions on issues at the time that we now judge harshly, as we should, and if that is the new standard, then almost the entire founding leadership of our country would get cancelled.”
Jacob Cardinal is an LJI reporter for Alberta Native News.
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