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TORONTO — The union representing Ontario’s public elementary school teachers is calling on all elementary schools in the province to pull the name of Canada’s first prime minister from their buildings.
The Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario passed a motion at its annual meeting last week calling on all school districts in Ontario to rename schools and buildings named after Sir John A. Macdonald.
The union said it wants the name change because of what it calls Macdonald’s role as the “architect of genocide against Indigenous Peoples.” Macdonald was prime minister during the time the federal government approved the first residential schools in the country.
Felipe Pareja, the teacher who brought forward the motion, said the vote on the matter was not unanimous.
“It was a healthy debate, it was by no means one-sided,” said Pareja, a french teacher in the Peel District School Board. “But ultimately when the vote was called, the floor voted clearly to adopt the motion.”
— Felipe Pareja (@FAPareja) August 19, 2017
Pareja says that Macdonald’s part in establishing the Indian Act, as well as his part in Indigenous peoples’ suffering when their land was being taken for Canada’s national railway are “darker” sides of Macdonald’s history that need to be addressed.
“There’s no doubt, they’re not comfortable things to talk about, but it doesn’t make them any less necessary to talk about and to acknowledge,” said Pareja. “This really is something that we see as being in the context of (truth and reconciliation) more than anything else.”
Pareja also said it might be difficult for Indigenous students and teachers to go to a school named after someone who he says was complicit in the genocide of Indigenous people.
The ETFO passed Pareja’s motion as a recommendation, which means it will now be up to different school boards across Ontario to decide whether they implement the change or not.
The ETFO’s call comes after a student-led campaign at Toronto’s Ryerson University last month pushed for the school to change its name out of respect for residential school survivors.
The downtown university is named for Egerton Ryerson, a pioneer of public education in Ontario who is widely believed to have helped shape residential school policy through his ideas on education for Indigenous children.
And in June, the name of founding father Hector-Louis Langevin was stripped from the building that houses the Prime Minister’s Office on Parliament Hill. Langevin argued for a separate school system with a specific mandate to assimilate Indigenous children.
Pareja said the Macdonald issue, if acted upon by school boards, wouldn’t be the first case of a motion in the teachers’ union leading to change.
Last year, he said a motion passed by the federation led to Chinguacousy Secondary School in Brampton, Ont. changing their sports teams’ names from the “Chinguacousy Chiefs,” because it was seen as hurtful to Indigenous people.
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