In the wake of news of a mass grave being found at a Kamloops residential school, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is calling on the Calgary Catholic School District (CCSD) and the Calgary Board of Education (CBE) to rename Bishop Grandin High School and Langevin School.
“The time for dithering has long passed. The time for process has long passed,” Nenshi said Monday morning. “Both of those boards should change the names of those schools at their next meetings.
“I’ve had the chance to spend some time with some colleagues this weekend who are graduates of Bishop Grandin school who did not know who Bishop Grandin was,” Nenshi added. “He did not know about the residential schools that he controlled in this area.”
On May 27, the Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc confirmed the remains of 215 children were found buried on the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. The remains were found using ground-penetrating radar.
Chief Rosanne Casimir believed the deaths were undocumented, but work is underway by the Secwepemc Museum’s archivist to see if any records can be found.
The two Calgary schools in question are named after men who were instrumental in residential schools.
A member of the Great Coalition that led to Confederation, Hector-Louis Langevin was a staunch supporter of residential schools during his tenure as federal minister of public works.
During a budget debate at the House of Commons on May 22, 1883, Langevin spoke to the purpose of residential schools.
“The fact is, if you wish to educate these children, you must separate them from their parents during the time that they are being educated,” Langevin said, per Hansard.
“If you leave them in the family, they may know how to read and write but they still remain savages, whereas by separating them in the way proposed, they acquire the habits and tastes — it is to be hoped only the good tastes — of civilized people.”
According to the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin “led the campaign for residential schooling.”
The report documents an 1880 letter from Grandin to Langevin advocating for the schooling of Indigenous children as “the only efficient means of saving them from destruction and civilizing (them).”
“To become civilized they should be taken with the consent of their parents and made to lead a life different from their parents and cause them to forget the customs, habits and language of their ancestors,” Grandin wrote, according to the TRC report.
According to the White Goose Flying Report, Calgary had one residential school: St. Dunstan’s in Ogden. Research by Calgary Neighbourhoods for that report found only one known gravesite.
And according to the TRC, Morley, St. Barnabas at Tsuut’ina, St. Joseph’s in High River, Old Sun in Gleichen, and St. Joseph’s/St. Trinité in Cluny, Alta., were also locations of residential schools near Calgary.
Years of calling for change
Marilyn North Peigan, who sat on the citizen advisory committee that eventually produced the White Goose Flying Report and is currently a Calgary Police Commissioner, said she has been advocating for the name changes for years.
“We have been advocating for this for so long and it had to take a tragedy like this to actually take notice of what we already know in our community,” North Peigan said. “We need to start changing those names that represented hate, especially towards children.”
Sunday night, local group Change Langevin School put up a public art display urging the name change. Part of that display included 215 stencilled shoe prints surrounding the school.
“The CBE has a responsibility to fulfill the calls to action of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission, and renaming the school is an important step in that process,” Zach Helfenbaum, a Grade 8 student at the school, said in a statement.
“We can only imagine what it would have to feel like to have to walk into a school, every day, whose name honours a man who did such harm to one’s own people,” Joy McCullagh, a fellow Grade 8 student, said in a statement.
“We never want Indigenous students — or any students — to have to feel that kind of pain.”
Both school boards will be flying flags at half mast and urged their students to wear orange “to show solidarity with residential school survivors,” the CBE wrote.
CCSD district chaplain Michelle Hoogveld prepared a “prayer for sorrow and healing” to be said at work sites and schools.
In their message to parents, employees and staff, CBE said they “continue to support the implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action as part of the CBE’s system of Indigenous Education Holistic Lifelong Learning Framework.”
Nenshi urged the school boards to at least commit to changing the school names.
“Make a statement and do it now,” the mayor urged. “Just say, ‘As an act of reconciliation, we are renaming these two schools. We don’t know to what. We’re going to work with the community to figure out the best way to do that. But we recognize the harm and the hurt that is being caused.’”
Nenshi noted that many youth of nearby Tsuut’ina Nation attend Bishop Grandin High School.
“It doesn’t take that much political courage.”
In a statement to Global News, CCSD said it “take all Indigenous matters seriously” and was “deeply saddened” by the discovery in Kamloops.
“As Catholics, we are deeply sorry for the residential school movement of the past,” the statement reads. “We are committed to the education recommendations in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission: Calls to Action report.
“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.”’
North Peigan said the school boards have had a reconciliation roadmap for years.
“We have those solutions through the Truth and Reconciliation (Commission) and here in Calgary we have the White Goose Flying Report. We have had that for a few years. It’s time for us to stop putting it on the back burner.”
On May 26, 2018, the city renamed Langevin Bridge to Reconciliation Bridge after a 2017 council decision.
The White Goose Flying Report called renaming the bridge “a powerful symbol of mutual respect for the future.”
Calgary city council will also be revisiting their commitments made in the report at an upcoming meeting.
“We have to recommit ourselves even more strongly to true action,” Nenshi said. “And so I’ll be looking for a conversation with council next week to really talk about how we can accelerate the work that we have set out to do.”
North Peigan pointed to another TRC call to action for city council to enact: a residential schools monument “to honour survivors and all the children who were lost to their families and communities.”
“The native people need something to mourn around and having a monument at city hall where people can visit and acknowledge that grief and allow it to move towards a healing nature would be a great start,” North Peigan said.
Survivors of the residential school system can get support through Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program 24/7 crisis line by calling 1-866-925-4419.
–with files from Carolyn Kury de Castillo and Adam MacVicar, Global News, and James Peters, CFJC Today