Port Alberni Elementary School Receives New Indigenous Name
Port Alberni –
On the eve of Canada’s first-ever Truth and Reconciliation Day, the Port Alberni School Board is marking the event by changing an elementary school to have an Indigenous name.
“There would be many of our ancestors who would be very moved to see a day like this when there was a time when we weren’t even allowed to come to schools like this,” the counselor said. Chief-elect of the Tseshaht First Nation, Ken Watts.
In a ceremony Wednesday morning, School District 70 renamed AW Neill Elementary to Tsuma-as Elementary.
“There aren’t a lot of schools with Aboriginal names in all of British Columbia, especially here on the West Coast,” Watts said.
The board decided to change the name after a researcher uncovered the controversial story of Alan Webster Neill, the person after whom the school was named.
Former federal and provincial politician Alan Webster Neill sits with his dog in a 1955 photo aged 87. (THE CANADIAN PRESS / HO-Alberni Valley Museum Photograph PN1247)
Neill was a former mayor of Port Alberni, MP and member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia.
History shows that Neill was very vocal against people of Asian descent and was also involved in the operation of the residential schools in Alberni.
“I think this will be the first of many name changes,” Watts said. “Not just sites or schools or facilities, but street names have changed and other things are happening slowly.”
Tsunami-as is an indigenous name which means “Small stream that flows all over the ground”.
But not everyone was in favor of the change.
“Some people didn’t want it, they opposed it, making a change, they didn’t want it to happen,” said Pam Craig, chair of the Board of Education.
“But it became clear after the discussion that people understood why we were looking to do this,” she said.
Craig says the change lasted six years.
“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 community members to be together and to work together,” she said.