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A Sunshine Coast School District’s Rename Is a Move Toward Reconciliation

Powell River’s name honours a key player in colonization. The name qathet was a gift from the Tla’amin Nation.

Katie Hyslop 28 Sep 2023The Tyee

Katie Hyslop writes about education and youth issues for The Tyee.

On Monday, School District 47 changed its name to qathet from Powell River.

The decision “seemed to be a natural fit with what was going on within the city and within the nation,” said Jay Yule, superintendent of the qathet School District.

District 47, which encompasses a geographic area including Texada Island, Lund and the City of Powell River, was already considering changing its name when it received a letter from the Tla’amin Nation in spring 2022 requesting the name change, Yule said.

Over 30 other organizations and institutions in the qathet Regional District have also updated their names — many in part to better reflect both the geographic area they serve and the name change request from the Tla’amin Nation.

The qathet Regional District, which includes five electoral areas and the municipality of Powell River, was called the Powell River Regional District until 2018, when it adopted its new name, which was a gift from the Tla’amin Nation. The name “qathet” (pronounced “KA-thet”) means “working together.”

toqʷanən Dillon Johnson, an elected member of the Tla’amin Nation executive council, said he wished the change hadn’t taken over a year to make. But he is pleased to see the district change its name to qathet.

“Hands raised that this group showed the leadership it takes to make this decision,” said Johnson, whose “house post” or portfolio on the council includes education. “It’s all part of a larger strategy to rid Powell from our territory.”

Israel Wood Powell spent 17 years attempting to forcibly assimilate Indigenous people as superintendent of Indian Affairs for British Columbia in the late 19th century.

There are 474 Indigenous students in the qathet School District, about 12 per cent of students enrolled overall. Of those, 130 students are from the Tla’amin Nation.

While the name change has been under discussion for some time, the district chose to soft-launch its new name the same week its schools will be marking Truth and Reconciliation Day, which falls on a Saturday this year.

“We wanted the launch to happen as part of a much bigger picture,” Yule said, adding there would be an official naming ceremony in the near future.

“The name change is just a small little piece in reconciliation and advancing Indigenous teachings within our schools.”

Other recent changes in the district include working with First Nations carvers to install welcome poles in front of every district school, launching a “robust program” run by čɛpθ — “auntie/uncle” in the ʔayʔaǰuθəm language — workers in all the schools teaching Tla’amin language and culture, signing a new education agreement with the Tla’amin First Nation and collaborating with the nation to create an ʔayʔaǰuθəm immersion program for preschool to Grade 1.

The district also decided to require Grade 10 students to take English First Peoples 10, equivalent to English 10 but with a focus on works by Indigenous authors, a year before the province announced it would require students to have four credits in Indigenous-focused courses to graduate.

Despite the “heavy” history and ongoing colonization of Indigenous people that created the need for a Truth and Reconciliation Day, Johnson said it is significant and “meaningful” that the school announced its name change this week.

“Especially for something like a school district: this is an education institution, and our children go to this school district to be educated in this modern, western approach. And it’s important that the school district sets the tone at the top of being inclusive and respectful,” Johnson said.

Two years ago the City of Powell River passed a motion to look into changing its name.

Despite launching a working group between the municipality and the nation, producing a report with 11 recommendations and holding public education sessions about the possible name change, efforts to change the city’s name have stalled.

Johnson hopes the name change, and education students receive about who Powell was and his impact on the First Nations in the region, leads to more pride among Tla’amin students and young people in who they are.

“There’s a safety aspect in being proud of who they are,” he said, “instead of what Powell thought of us.”  [Tyee]

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