As social justice advocates, I often feel that we chip away and chip away but I don’t really believe the “powers that be” will change.

But that’s exactly what happened this summer!

Here’s the short story

  • The Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board had a new school being built in East City that needed a name.
  • Even though they have a policy for naming schools that admonishes them to use names to forward anti-racism or otherwise support the inclusion and social justice aims of the Board, and even though the committee they formed to come up with recommendations brought forward 4 names, 2 of which had Indigenous significance, the Board over-ruled the committee and named the school “East City Public School”.
  • When this news reach the Community Race Relations Committee of Peterborough (CRRCP) and the Kawartha Truth & Reconciliation Support Group (KTRSG), they went into action.
  • The UPF Indigenous Allies Working Group supported their actions with its own letter to the Board, which was signed by over 50 members of the congregation.
  • In June 2020, Charmaine Magumbe, Chair of the CRRCP and Alice Williams, Chair of the KTRSG made a stirring presentation to the Board, asking that the Board to reconsider its decision.
  • And the Board agreed!
  • Further, the person who is to write a report for the relevant Board committee in October asked Alice to write the report with her! An invitation to true consultation.

So, a BIG THANKS to all those who signed the letter in support of the name change.

And to all you activists out there – take heart, keep up your social justice work. Sometimes it changes everything.

Here is more detail:

It started early in the year, when the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board needed a name for a new school being built in East City.

A committee to make recommendations to the Board. The committee was chaired by Anne Marie Duncan, one of the Board Superintendents. It included trustees, and representatives of the community around the school, parents, students, and a principal.

Input was sought through general media and through school and Board channels. It appears that a fairly extensive process of public consultation was conducted.

However, the naming committee and subsequently the Board appear to have overlooked an important part of the Board’s own Policy on Naming schools. Policy Code: BA-6.1, which states:

 “ . . .  Given the Board’s commitment to equity and diversity, and recognizing the principle of inclusiveness in a public school system, it would be prudent to consider school names that reflect the diversity of the communities within the Board’s jurisdiction in terms of gender, race, disability, ethnicity, etc.. . . “

The committee came up with 4 names to present to the Board for decision with its recommendation being the first name:

  1. Shining Waters Public School
  2. East City Public School
  3. Lift Lock Public School
  4. Kaa-Waa-Te Public School

The committee report explained that “Shining Waters” was submitted as an option by one community member, and the committee was enthusiastic about a perceived Indigenous connection with this phrase.

Following the Board’s Indigenous Education Principle #5 which states, “nothing about us without us”, the committee chair consulted with Curve Lake and Hiawatha First Nations Knowledge Keepers to ask for their opinion on using Shining Waters for the new school.

Hiawatha First Nations Knowledge Keepers responded enthusiastically.

Anne Taylor from Curve Lake First Nation, however, suggested using an Anishinaabe name for the school, rather than an English derivative, and Kaa-Waa-Te (shadows on water) was suggested.

The committee report stated that “East City Public School” was suggested 12/52 times by the community in the initial solicitation for names in November and December 2019, representing the most suggested name of any of those submitted.

The Board studied the committee report and then over-ruled the committee recommendation (Shining Waters PS) and chose “East City PS” reasoning that this was the name submitted by more community members than any others. (Note that this was not a vote, just the commonality of suggestions.)

From subsequent newspaper articles (e.g., Peterborough This Week, Apr 29, 2020),  the Board’s decision to ignore Indigenous-related names came to the attention of Charmaine Magumbe, Chair of the Community Race Relations Committee of Peterborough (CRRCP) and Alice Williams from Curve Lake and Chair of the Kawartha Truth & Reconciliation Support Group (KTRSG). They decided to speak up.

Our Indigenous Allies Working Group prepared a supportive letter for the Board, which was signed by over 50 members of the congregation.

Yours truly (Barbara) from the Indigenous Allies Working Group offered to assist in gathering background to help Alice and Charmaine prepare for a presentation to the Board.

Charmaine and Alice requested and received an invitation for an 8-minute presentation to the Board at its final meeting of the year on June 19 2020.

Alice and Charmaine each delivered powerful messages. If you’d like to read the whole texts, let me know.

Here’s a sample:

From Alice:

“ In this time of reconciliation, the school board has been presented with an opportunity to forge a new path toward reconciliation  . . . By choosing an English name for the school, the KPRDSB and the naming committee have removed that discussion. This means that not only is the school board denying themselves the opportunity to walk forward together, but all of the children who attend the school and all of the families of those children have also been denied this opportunity to commit to real change. By choosing to include Anishinaabemowin in the school name, the board would have started that process of fundamental change in ways of seeing and being in the world and it is that fundamental change in thinking that is the very essence of reconciliation. What a shame to miss such an opportunity. . . If reconciliation is truly important to you as settlers in this land, then walk that truth.”

Alice also said “You’ve been listening, but you haven’t heard.”

From Charmaine: (referring to the Board’s naming policy) . . .

“But yet there were no representation from the Indigenous community included in the naming committee.  Even from your own KPR board, trustees and the KPR education system, the following were not included in the naming of the school,

  • Kailee Dupuis, the Trustee for Alderville First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Hiawatha First Nation
  • Jack Nigro, Superintendent of Education: Student Achievement, First Nation, Métis, and Inuit Education
  • Marjolaine Lapointe, Equity and Inclusive Education Consultant, Indigenous Education Consultant
  • Dean Smith, Indigenous Education Consultant
  • Melody Crowe, First Nation Education Liaison

If the Committee had decided it wanted the name to reflect the region’s Indigenous history and population, they could have asked the Indigenous communities to meet together and come up with some names.

It is not enough to have a discussion with the Indigenous community but to include them in the decision making process. True equity, means having all involved at the table where the decision is being made and this did not happen.”

As I listened, I was moved and proud of the fierce and articulate passion of both speakers.

And then, a huge surprise awaited me (in my pessimism about the possibility of change).

As soon as Charmaine and Alice had completed their presentations, a member of the Board moved to re-examine its decision. Several board members spoke in agreement. The Board chair echoed Alice’s words “We have listened but we haven’t heard”. And the Board passed the motion to re-examine their decision. I had tears in my eyes as I listened.

As another touching moment, Kailee Dupuis, the Trustee for Alderville First Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Hiawatha First Nation, responded to the vote by saying that she felt very supported by the other trustees as they made this decision.

The committee chair, Anne Marie Duncan was asked to make a report to the Committee of the Chairs of the Board, for its meeting in early October. When Alice asked Anne Marie how Alice/Charmaine could have input into Anne Marie’s report, the Superintendent invited Alice to join her in writing the report.

So we await ongoing events. But there is indication that the Board will re-consider the school name, probably accepting a recommendation of KaaWaaTeh East City Public School.

So, a BIG THANKS to all those who signed the letter in support of the name change.

And to all you activists out there – take heart, keep up your social justice work. Sometimes it changes everything.