The Chippewa Secondary School Renaming Committee is taking a few months to work out a new school name David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Chippewa Secondary School (CSS) may not be renamed until the leaves start to fall. The CSS Renaming Committee – an ad-hoc committee struck by the Near North District School Board – detailed that a final decision will take some time yet. There is much to do before the change is made.

In an update submitted to the board, the committee emphasized that it has “grappled with various issues related to this renaming process, and as a result, has had to extend their original timelines” for when a new name can be brought to the trustees.

“I would like to acknowledge the amount of work done by this committee,” said board trustee Julie Bertram at this evening’s meeting. “This process has become an extremely complex situation involving Indigenous / settler dynamics, and the politics surrounding it.”

However, the work carries on.

Why so long? The committee, helmed by the Superintendent of Education Gay Smylie, explained that there are two main documents overseeing the renaming. There is the committee’s own Terms of Reference, and the School Openings, Closures and Consolidations Administrative Guideline.

However, those two documents “misalign,” the committee explained, and plans are underway to review and update the Administrative Guidelines.

The Terms of Reference “reflect the Board’s commitment to promote equity, human rights, and inclusive learning environments for all students and staff.” The Terms of Reference also detail the board’s “commitment to Indigenous sovereignty, equity and human rights.”

The administrative guidelines, specifically section 2.5, “is too broad in scope,” the committee explained, “allowing for naming schools after individuals, corporations, or names that can contravene an individual’s rights” as outlined under Section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The Code begins, “every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability.”

Following the Code is paramount, the committee explained. “We must follow the guidance of the Ministry of Education and the Ontario Human Rights Commission” and adhere to the Human Rights Code.

A Chippewa student “who may be disadvantaged or suffer prejudice as a result of the school’s name” could file a case with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario to seek remedy, which could include changes to the board’s policy and practices. The complainant could also request financial compensation.

The committee’s legal counsel advised that “where cultural appropriation perpetuates a prejudicial representation or stereotype of Indigenous persons, such cultural appropriation would be deemed unlawful under Section 1 of the Code.”

“To be clear,” the committee explained, “NNDSB does not believe that the word Chippewa is offensive.” It detailed that Chippewa is an exonym – a word given to a place, people or language by foreigners instead of using the Indigenous language version.

Bertram elaborated, noting “it was a mistake to start this process with the erroneous claim that Chippewa was an offensive name, it was a mistake to not properly engage with already established communities and local First Nations during this process.”

“The voices to be heard most are the traditional people of the land we inhabit.” She also mentioned her concern that the process involved in renaming the school “has done more harm than the good it is trying to achieve.”

She cautioned it was a mistake to rush through without further consulting Indigenous neighbours and community members.  

Chippewa, the committee’s update continued, was a word used by settlers to describe an Indigenous population. The committee recognized that continuing to use this exonym “may cause harm to some people who see it as an imposed, colonizer’s word that further misrepresents the original people of the land, their language and culture.”

However, Indigenous languages are living languages, Bertram noted, and First Nations use exonyms regularly, including Chippewa, Algonquin, Mississauga and many others.

“This time should be a re-set,” Betram said, “and one that is carefully navigated as we walk through Truth and Reconciliation together.”

Efforts have been made to rebrand the school. In 2016 the Raider mascot was removed, and the longstanding “tomahawk” tournament was also re-named. However, these actions “do not replace our culpability under Human Rights to remove a name that can violate someone’s rights” under the Human Rights Code.

See: School board updates dress guideline to enhance inclusivity and equity

Where to now? The committee will further consult with Nipissing First Nation representatives as well as with Indigenous people in the city. More consultation will be planned once the top five names have been selected. Currently, the committee has a list of ten names, unreleased.

Bertram also suggested the discussion be continued at the next committee of the whole meeting, which at this time, is not scheduled. The board agreed.

The Administrative Guideline will be revised, which includes consulting with the Senior Executive Team and opening a 30-day public consultation term. Lawyers will be consulted, and all edits will be brought before the Board of Trustees.

“Given the time of year and the task at hand, this task is likely to be finished next fall,” the committee’s report projected, indicating the fall of 2023.

Changing the school’s name is not popular with some, and the board acknowledged that many education officials throughout the province have been targets of threats and hate speech “simply because they are doing the work they have been tasked with.”

See: Petition started to stop school board renaming Chippewa

The board must comply with Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

The Council for Ontario Directors of Education has noticed this rise in threats against its members and emphasized that “there is no room for hate speech, violence, or the denigration of the human rights of others” in public school boards across the province.

The renaming committee “continue to be subjected to the strong, angry, and negative voices in the community who do not want change, who want to keep things as they are, who do not feel they have to abide by the tenets laid out in the Human Rights, Equity, and Inclusion.”

However, the committee must adhere to those obligations, and will continue the work of changing the school’s name – a decision “not to be taken lightly.”

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

By David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 13, 2023 at 21:14

This item reprinted with permission from   BayToday.ca   North Bay, Ontario
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