This letter is addressed to the Rocky View Schools Board of Trustees and superintendent.
A month has passed since the remains of 215 children were found on the grounds of a residential school in Kamloops, B.C. Last week, we learned of another 751 unmarked graves found at a residential school in Saskatchewan.
The Stoney Nakoda Nation has fought for years to have the historical designation of the McDougall Church on their land removed. When it burned down, the Stoney Nakoda Nation saw it as an “opportunity to rid ourselves of something that really brings up some painful memories for many Stoney people.” Unfortunately, the current government issued a permit to rebuild the painful site in November 2019. RVS has the opportunity to do better, and change the name of George McDougall High School in Airdrie and take one of the smallest, simplest steps toward reconciliation.
The McDougall Orphanage and Home, according to Stoney Elder and residential school survivor Tina Fox, was responsible for many abuses. She told the CBC last year that “students have been physically abused, spiritually abused, sexually abused and mentally abused. We were called stupid Indians, dirty little Indians, [told] 'You will never amount to anything,' and things like that. When we came out of school, we had no sense of self-esteem. We felt worthless, unworthy.” To her and others in the Stoney Nation, the remains of the mission and McDougall's legacy are “a reminder of bad things that happened to us as residential school students.”
Removing the name of George McDougall High School is not going to heal all wounds. However, it does serve as a real acknowledgement that those wounds exist, and that we, as settlers, are willing to take action in the direction of reconciliation. To leave his name on a school does the opposite, saying we honour and venerate the perpetrator of this pain and suffering. The juxtaposition of George McDougall High School recently sharing images on social media about reconciliation and messages about events like Orange Shirt Day, while still displaying the name of someone who founded such a school, presents an image of insincerity or even hypocrisy, regardless of intent.
I have discussed this issue at length and participated in a grassroots group looking to change the name of the school who recently presented to you why a name change is so important. I understand RVS does not currently have a policy on how to change the name of a school, and that drafting such a policy and finding a new name may not be as simple as it was for the CBE and their work with Riverside School, but that does not stop you from taking action today.
I’m calling on you as the RVS Board of Trustees to take action immediately. Immediately pass a motion that signals your intent to create a policy allowing for a school name to be changed, and a motion to express the intent that under that new policy, George McDougall High School will be renamed. These simple, painless steps would go a long way to showing that efforts are being made to change the name of the school, and that the board is willing to do the right thing in the name of reconciliation, and move George McDougall’s name from a place of honour, and into the history books.