New name unanimously approved for Edmonton’s former Grandin School

Click to play video: 'Edmonton Catholic school gets new name' Edmonton Catholic school gets new name
On the eve of National Truth and Reconciliation Day, an Edmonton school has a new name. What was once Grandin School is now known as Holy Child Catholic Elementary. AS QUINN OHLER REPORTS-- THE NEW NAME COMES WITH MIXED REACTIONS. – Sep 29, 2021

The Edmonton Catholic School board of trustees unanimously approved a new name for the former Grandin School.

In a meeting Tuesday morning, the board members — all of whom were wearing orange shirts to commemorate National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — announced the central Edmonton school will now be called Holy Child Catholic Elementary School.

“Holy Child is one of several titles that are used to refer to Jesus from his birth until he reached the age of 13,” trustee Sandra Palazzo explained.

“The name calls to mind this formative time in his life. Jesus often referred to the sacredness of children in his teaching.”

The new name comes after the board voted in late June to remove the Grandin name from the school.

Read more: Edmonton Catholic School board votes to rename Grandin School, remove mural

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The school was named 105 years ago after Bishop Vital-Justin Grandin, an early advocate of the residential school system who lobbied the Canadian government to fund residential schools in the late 1800s.

In recent months, there have been calls across the country and right here in Edmonton to rename schools, train stations and other public places that are named after the architects of the residential school system.

Click to play video: 'Edmonton’s mayor calls for Grandin LRT station name change in light of residential school tragedy' Edmonton’s mayor calls for Grandin LRT station name change in light of residential school tragedy
Edmonton’s mayor calls for Grandin LRT station name change in light of residential school tragedy – Jun 3, 2021

Following the decision to remove the name from the Edmonton school, a committee was struck to undertake the search for a new name.

The committee included members from the Edmonton Catholic Schools Elders Advisory Council, Indigenous learning services, school administration, the department of religious education and senior leadership.

Read more: Mural at old Grandin LRT Station to be removed this fall

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Palazzo said the committee decided the new name should honour the children whose lives were lost in residential schools, as well as be meaningful and positive to the children who currently attend the school.

“It was really important for the school community that the new name be one that resonated in the spirit of of Truth and Reconciliation,” added trustee Alene Mutala.

The new name is being met with mixed reaction.

Elder Betty Letendre from the Council of Elders closed the meeting with a prayer in her first language, Cree. Before that, she thanked the board for the name change.

“What a beautiful name,” she said, acknowledging the change came one day ahead of Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. The day honours the lost children and survivors of residential schools, their families and communities.

“Thank you on behalf of my people for making this change. We walk together in the same journey because what happens to me and my people happens to the rest of the world, especially our Canada.”

However, Elder Taz Augustine said the new name felt like “a slap in the face,” adding it’s not the name that should have been chosen.

“That is not a word that we, who are traditional to this land, we do not use. We say every child is a gift and we don’t put them in a place of being more than others. They’re very important to us, absolutely, but holy is not our word. I’m not even sure what it means,” she said from outside the school Wednesday.

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“When we use the word holy, as in ‘holy smokes’ when we’re speaking, it’s sort of like an emphasis word for us, for Indigenous people. It’s not something we hold in high esteem.

“It’s not our terminology for children. It’s not the way we identify children. We say children are a gift to us. We don’t say they’re holy… Holy Child once more promotes a religion that did a lot of harm on our land to the Indigenous children.”

Read more: Canada set to mark 1st National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. Here’s what’s happening

Lloyd Yellowbird, a senior manager at Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society in Edmonton, said he is encouraged to see names like Grandin coming down from public buildings and spaces.

“It gives myself personally an indication that things are moving forward with reconciliation,” he said. “Things are coming along slowly but it’s not like we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Things are happening as they should and when they’re supposed to.”

He added it’s also important that people learn the history behind it.

“Learning about this name change,” Yellowbird said. “Educating people is first and foremost important. You can’t just make assumptions on people.”

Yellowbird also questioned the use of holy in the new school name.

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“Holy is more of Catholicism and what that word means. There’s different meanings and languages, Indigenous languages, for the word holy,” he said. “Holy Child could have a reference to the church, so to me, it’s not the appropriate word to be using.

“I don’t know what their intentions were, only they know. But I know for us, OK, there’s still a process involved here.”

Dale Gagne, who has a son in Grade 2 at the school, supports the reason behind the name change but said he’s mixed on the new name.

“It’s fine,” he said. “Holy Child as the choice, it’s fine.”

The new name comes into place immediately. The ECSD said the new school name is “Kihci Awasis” in Cree, “École Saint-Enfant” in French, and “Escuela del Santo Niño” in Spanish.

The Indian Residential Schools Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) is available 24 hours a day for anyone experiencing pain or distress as a result of their residential school experience.

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