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BEYOND LOCAL: Indigenous communities say they weren't consulted on school name change

Halton District School Board has proposed renaming of Iroquois Ridge High School in Oakville

The Halton District School Board has said they are actively in talks with their treaty partners and engaging in ongoing discussions with the Indigenous community regarding the proposed renaming of Iroquois Ridge High School in Oakville.

However, prominent indigenous voices allege no such effort has been made and the decision was instead "guided in a bias way," according to Jody Harbour, co-founder of Grandmother’s Voice.

Harbour has children who have attended and will attend Iroquois Ridge High School. She is also a leader at Grandmother's Voice, an organization that aims to revive and amplify Indigenous ancestral insights and values, nurturing them for future generations.

"My Father died at 52 only knowing he was an ‘Iroquois Indian.’ When I moved into this area 20 years ago, and saw the signs that said ‘Iroquois,’ it moved me to research and do my genealogy that found my family on Six Nations and put me on the path to co-create Grandmother’s Voice," Harbour said. 

Harbour criticized the decision-making process surrounding the school’s name change for lacking transparency, collaboration, and accountability, suggesting that it disregarded principles of reconciliation.

"The more the community speaks out, the more we find out the decision to motion for a name change was guided by a consultant who refers to themselves as a ‘treaty partner’, which is probably misleading to many," said Harbour.

"The board also recently created a land acknowledgement that removed all language that Haudenosaunee (also known as Six Nations, also known as Iroquois) were removed from a previous land acknowledgement along with other nations that have walked this land."

Iroquois Ridge school’s Communications and Engagement Manager Heather Francey told Oakville News, "It is important to remember and recognize the diversity of perspectives and lived experiences. There is a group of people that view the term ‘Iroquois’ as derogatory and harmful."

"The fact that there are some who do not feel this word is derogatory does not invalidate the perspectives and lived experiences of those who do find the term to be derogatory and disrespectful."

Francey also explained the ongoing discussion between the board and the community saying, "I do want to clarify that the decision to look into the renaming of the school was not made by the Treaty Partner, as there seems to be some misunderstanding around that."

"As outlined in the Board’s School Naming and Renaming Governance Procedure, staff are required to bring forward all requests that meet the criteria set out in this procedure to the Board of Trustees for decision. This process involves reaching out and having continued conversations with Indigenous community members and the community at the large."

Former Indigenous Knowledge Guide for HDSB Stephen Paquette was let go from the board in 2023 after his position was deemed "redundant" last year.

Paquette commented on the engagement between the school board and the Indigenous community, saying, "I am very well connected with the Halton community, whether it’s teachers, students, families...everyone that I have reached out to has indicated that no one was consulted, no one was made aware, and they didn’t receive an email."

Paquette highlighted that the school board has students and families who have voluntarily self-identified as Indigenous, and he alleges that even these individuals say they were not consulted. 

On March 7, the school community was notified that the board would be looking into the name change. Before this, it’s alleged there was no discussion among the Iroquois Ridge High School community. 

"In my opinion, where I just feel that the board has lost their way is that they’re following that single-story narrative of one particular individual to the exclusion of the Indigenous community," said Paquette.

Comments from Indigenous Elders have expressed a firm stance against the steps taken by the school board throughout this process.

"The oppressed can become the oppressors when they work within the systems of oppression,” said Indigenous Wholistic Psychotherapist Dennis Windego.

"Ontario is deeply rooted in colonization and oppression; it was the first to be established and may take the longest to heal," said Founder of White Spotted Horse Allen Sutherland.

As discussions continue, suggestions for the high school's new name will be collected from the community for the Board of Trustees to decide on at an upcoming meeting.

The community organized petition against the name change has passed 2,500 signatures. At the bottom of the page, many participants have shared their reasons for signing, including "Our history shouldn’t be erased."

Ben Brown

About the Author: Ben Brown

Ben Brown is a local news reporter from Oakville, Ontario, a graduate from WIlfrid Laurier University and a self-published author. His main focus is reporting on crime, local businesses and achievements, and general news assignments throughout town
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