Port Alberni elementary school receives new Indigenous name
On the eve of Canada's first ever Truth and Reconciliation Day, Port Alberni's Board of Education is marking the event by changing an elementary school so it has a First Nations name.
"There would be a lot of our ancestors who would be pretty emotional to see a day like this when there was a time when we weren't even allowed to come to schools like this," said Tseshaht First Nation Elected Chief Councillor Ken Watts.
In a ceremony Wednesday morning, School District 70 renamed A.W. Neill Elementary as Tsuma-as Elementary.
"There aren't a lot of schools that have taken on Indigenous names throughout B.C., especially here on the West Coast," Watts said.
The board decided to change the name after a researcher discovered the controversial history of Alan Webster Neill, the person the school was named after.
Former federal and provincial politician Alan Webster Neill sits with his dog in a photo from 1955 at the age of 87. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Alberni Valley Museum Photograph PN1247)
Neill was a former Port Alberni mayor, member of parliament and member of the B.C. legislature.
History shows Neill was very vocal against people of Asian heritage and was also involved in the operation of the Alberni Indian Residential Schools.
"I think it's going to be the first of many re-namings," said Watts. "Not just sites or schools or facilities, but street names have changed and other things are happening slowly."
Tsuma-as is a First Nation name meaning, "Little creek running all over the ground."
But not everyone was supportive of the change.
"Some people didn't want that, they objected to that, making a change, they did not want that to happen," said Pam Craig, chair of the Board of Education.
"But it became clear after the discussion that people were understanding why we were looking to do that," she said.
Craig says the change was six years in the making.
"Yes, it took a while, but it became obvious because we talked about, 'Why would we do this?'" said Craig.
"Well we want to connect our people, we want our people in the community to be together and work together," she said.