How to rename a school named Egerton Ryerson

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HAMILTON – In June, the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Trustees voted unanimously rename Ryerson Elementary School following the discovery of anonymous graves on the grounds of former Indian residential schools. The news sparked protests and nationwide conversations over Hamilton school namesake Egerton Ryerson, considered one of the architects of the system.

“It is not for us to speak on behalf of communities or indigenous people,” said Cam Galindo, the Hamilton school board trustee who, in June, proposed the motion to rename the school. “Our job is to amplify the voices of individuals who are often absent from the decision-making table. “

Renaming a school called Ryerson puts the Hamilton Board of Trustees in the same boat as the Halton District School Board and the Ryerson University administration. But, unlike Halton, who chose a new name for Ryerson Public School in Burlington in November and Downtown Toronto University, where the administration is surveying community members to rename the institution, Galindo’s motion specifically calls for the creation of a “Aboriginal process” for the name change.

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Directors will vote to approve such a process in January, when the board shares more details on its proposal, a spokesperson told TVO.org. “After multiple consultations with indigenous staff, knowledge keepers and the local indigenous community, we have an indigenous process,” the spokesperson said, adding that it will be guided by principles such as “consultation, collaboration, consensus and a focus on names related to the importance and history of the country where the school is located. The goal is to have a name for directors to consider by June. As institutions continue to move forward with these changes, Indigenous students tell TVO.org what an inclusive name change process should look like – and what institutions should avoid.

TVO.org Explanation: What is a boarding school?

Sam Howden loves the sound of what the Hamilton board is doing, although it will take a while. “How these processes are implemented and with whom is really important,” they say. Howden, who is Métis from the Red River of Treaty 1 Territory in Winnipeg, is a master’s student in social work at Ryerson University and the organizer of Wreckonciliation X University, the group behind the most recent push to rename the institution, what some students and professors call X University while waiting for the change.

In August, management accepted accept it recommendations of its working group, who concluded that the university “must reflect our diverse community with a new name”. A month later he announced an advisory committee on the name change made up of 17 students, faculty, staff, council and senate members, and alumni to help create a shortlist of potential names. The shortlist will be confirmed by the president of the committee, the university rector and the academic vice-president. It will then be submitted to the president and the board of directors of the university for a decision by the end of the school year 2021/2022.

A spokesperson told TVO.org that the name change committee “is made up of individuals with diverse roles, identities, backgrounds, areas of expertise” and that it “is making excellent progress “towards identifying” names that will do no harm, that will represent the university community in the future and create new possibilities to define our institution.

But Miranda Black, an Indigenous student of Mohawk ancestry from the Bay of Quinte who was originally on the committee, had serious problems on its composition and resigned. (The university says that when Black was appointed, the committee included three Indigenous peoples: a faculty member, a staff member, and a student. A new Indigenous student has since been appointed.) members were asked to sign – limiting what they could say about public meetings was another of Black’s concerns. “I couldn’t be responsible using the confidentiality agreement,” she told TVO.org. She remembers speaking to a Six Nations grandmother about her residential school experience: “I can’t say I’m not responsible to this woman when deciding on a name that’s supposed to be better for her and his community. “

The Agenda segment, June 3, 2021: Dealing with the Legacy of Indian Residential Schools in Canada

The university spokesperson, however, said such agreements are commonplace for committees and allow “all committee members to actively participate in meetings, contribute to discussions and allow perspectives to evolve. throughout the process “. Most of the committee’s documents, she adds, will eventually be available to the public.

Remembering who the name change process is for is essential, say Black and Howden. “This is not a publicity stunt,” said Black. “This is not for the gratification of the people involved in the name change committee; it is not for the gratification of the school itself. Elders from local Indigenous communities should be at the heart of any Indigenous name change process, says Black. “That leadership should be on these name change committees.” Howden says change should be led by the communities most affected by Ryerson’s legacy: “In my mind, it’s blacks and aboriginals. They add that the university task force found that some of Egerton Ryerson’s work supported school segregation and resulted in poorer education for black Ontarians.

When asked if the renaming committee would consult with these communities, the Ryerson University spokesperson said, “We have contacted both the Mississaugas of the Credit and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy as part of our outreach to the community. “

Halton’s board of directors consulted with an expert in Indigenous linguistics, CBC News reports. But, when asked about other potential indigenous consultations, a spokesperson for the board told TVO.org via email: “We have not specifically contacted any groups. As indicated in our administration procedure [2012 guidelines for naming and renaming schools], we accept online suggestions from all students, families and community stakeholders. Everyone is welcome to make suggestions. The board received 1,200 name suggestions and submitted it to a committee that included a parent, the principal, the superintendent and two commissioners. Three names were shortlisted for consideration by the other directors, who chose Makwendam, which means “to remember” in Anishinaabemowin.

Agenda segment, June 18, 2021: Seeking justice for the survivors of St. Anne

According to Galindo, the current Hamilton school process would allow school trustees to have the final say – but it’s something he thinks the board should at least consider changing: “Right now, that’s what it is. that would be the structure. But this is something that I think is one of the critiques and learning opportunities that we, as administrators trying to work with indigenous communities, have to grapple with when we even ask them to comply. what our practice of colonial governance is.

Understanding how such governance and community engagement can be at odds is crucial, says Brea Scott, a humanities student at Ryerson University and another Wreckonciliation organizer. “You cannot pursue Truth and Reconciliation through the prism of managerial and capitalism. You have to go through that by changing the processes, ”says Scott, who suggests that Western institutions tend to consolidate power at the top and limit bottom-up engagement (the top being presidents, CEOs or boards, for example. , and the bottom including workers, students and communities).

Jérémie Caribou, a public administration and governance student who is half nehitheu (Cree) and half Mohawk, agrees that it is important to consult from the bottom up. “The community is the expert,” says Caribou, who also works as the Liaison Officer with Indigenous Initiatives at the Ryerson University Library. “I think it’s important to have an indigenous perspective because we are on indigenous lands. The names, he says, are reminders of “where we are, how they got there and where they are going,” and the current name is “put [racism and genocide] on a pedestal and normalizing anti-native racism… It’s like we don’t matter.

Originally from Pukatawagan in northern Manitoba, Caribou was raised by residential school survivors. But until he started attending Ryerson University, he says, he didn’t know his namesake’s role in the system. Now he’s glad the name changes: “It’s not like [Indigenous people are] ask for a handout, or whatever, or may society have mercy on us, or make you feel bad. We are only telling the truth.

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