Brampton school ditches Sir John A. Macdonald’s name, honours Indigenous elder

Click to play video: 'Name Game down to four for the Kingston elementary school formerly called Sir John A. Macdonald'
Name Game down to four for the Kingston elementary school formerly called Sir John A. Macdonald
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A new name could represent a fresh start as an elementary school in Brampton, Ont., has officially changed its name from Sir John A. Macdonald Senior Public School to Nibi Emosaawdang Public School.

In a ceremony led by Indigenous elders and attendees through prayer and drumming circles, the name change and a path to reconciliation were made official Thursday.

“Through the values explored in this name we’re gonna have the opportunity to build character, citizenship and a real purpose of direction for students and our community,” said David Yaciuk, Nibi Emosaawdang’s principal.

Earlier this month, the school board said they had heard “increasing calls” to move towards changing the name of the school. The school made the change then but needed a few weeks to ensure all paperwork and signage could also be changed.

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The move by the Peel District School Board (PDSB) is in line with recent changes to landmarks and institutions that are ditching controversial names in Canadian history. In Kingston and Waterloo, the respective school boards in both cities moved to change the names of educational institutions associated with Macdonald.

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Macdonald was Canada’s first-ever prime minister but played a part in establishing Canada’s residential school system, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of Indigenous children, families torn apart and an attempt to destroy Indigenous culture.

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The school board said they consulted the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Credit River Metis, the Peel Indigenous Network of Employees, the Indigenous Network and the Credit River Metis Council before changing the name.

“With its name, Nibi Emosaawdang Public School also centres the themes of reconciliation, equity and social justice, which aligns with Peel District School Board’s commitments to anti-colonialism, anti-racism, anti-oppression,” wrote the school board in a statement.

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The naming ceremony saw the name changed to ‘the Water Walker’ in Ojibwe to recognize water rights advocate Josephine Mandamin. The Anishinaabe grandmother, elder and founding member of the Water Protectors walked around the Great Lakes to bring awareness to water pollution.

She walked 25,000 miles around the shorelines of all Great Lakes and other North American waterways while carrying a bucket of water to bring awareness to the need to protect the waters from pollution.

“Nibi Emosaawdang Public School evokes and inspires environmental activism with strong female community leaders at the forefront,” reads a statement from PDSB.

Even with her significant contributions to the community, Joanne Robertson, author of “The Water Walker,” said having a school named after her is something not even Mandamin could have imagined.

“She left us a lot of footsteps to be following but I don’t think she ever could’ve imagined schools to be picking up on her work in this way,” Robertson said. “I can hear her giggling now.”

The PDSB said the school’s former name, logo and outdoor sign were removed on March 31.

The school’s gymnasium floor and walls were also repainted.


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