By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – The recent discoveries of multiple unmarked graves at former residential school sites in Canada has many in mourning. The gravesites are believed to be predominantly made up of the remains of First Nations children who attended the institutions.
Because of this, many Canadians across the country called to cancel Canada Day celebrations in order to mourn the lives of the recently discovered graves. There have also been calls to remove the structures or plaques that honour and glorify the architects and supporters of the Indian Residential Schools in cities that have them.
In Alberta, changes are currently underway within the cities of Edmonton and Calgary. Many of them are regarding the namesakes of Bishop Vital Grandin, the first Roman Catholic bishop of St. Albert and early proponent of the residential “school” system.
The city of Edmonton has removed Grandin’s name from an LRT station and has also removed murals that honour the bishop. For example, a huge mural in former Grandin LRT station has been completely covered with orange paint.
Furthermore, Trustees with Edmonton Catholic Schools voted unanimously to remove Grandin’s name from an elementary school and the lettering on the school was removed almost immediately.
Shortly after this decision, Trustees with Greater St. Albert Catholic schools also voted unanimously to remove Grandin’s name from one of their elementary schools.
The renaming process will take place over the next couple months. A committee of parents, school officials and community members will determine the new name.
Edmonton Catholic board chair Sandra Palazzo said, “It is incumbent upon us to ensure that we are not honouring any aspect of the legacy of the residential school system or further traumatizing members of the Indigenous communities we presently serve.”
In Calgary, Catholic School District trustees voted in favour of renaming Bishop Grandin High school.
The district conducted a “thought exchange” and found that 52 percent of students and 54 percent of staff were in favour of changing the name. The decision was also determined by in-depth consultations with Indigenous peoples, Elders, Catholic Bishops, parents, guardians, students, and staff.
The high school will be called Haysboro High school until a new name is decided in the fall.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who originally called for the name changes after the Kamloops discovery of an unmarked grave site said, “This kind of symbolism really does matter. It may seem small, but it does matter.”
“(The board trustees) seem to have done so in the right way — they talked to Elders, they got some advice, they put a temporary name in place for now until they can properly rename the school with proper ceremony. That all feels right.”
Thousands of First Nations children were taken from their homes and forced into the residential school system — which was Canada’s attempt at assimilation.
Justice Murray Sinclair, a member of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, said the TRC believes that at least 6,000 children died.
In a statement, Chief Superintendent Bryan Szumlas said, “The Calgary Catholic School District is deeply sorry for the pain and trauma that this school name has brought to the community. Engaging stakeholders from the former Bishop Grandin School, to come up with a replacement name, will be our top priority.”
“It is our hope that a replacement name will go to the board of trustees for their approval in late September or early October. Consultation takes time and we want to come up with a replacement name to help this community heal.”