Grace Dove, actress and Kelly Road Secondary alumna, is speaking up for Indigenous youth who may be caught in the crossfire of public outcry over a proposed name change for the Prince George school.
Dove is an Indigenous actress based in Vancouver and Los Angeles, who garnered international attention playing opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the Oscar-winning film The Revenant.
She is also known for her role as Ricki, in the 2018 Netflix film How It Ends.
Dove is Secwépemc First Nation, near 100 Mile House, but grew up in Prince George and graduated from Kelly Road in 2009.
“I thought this is such a great step and an acknowledgment of the peoples and I’m so proud of the district that I graduated from to be doing this,” says Dove of the moment she first heard the high school could be getting a traditional Dakelh name.
“It was very exciting and hopeful and that faded pretty quickly when I saw the controversy that was building and the surprising amount of people that were upset over the change.”
On Tuesday (Feb. 25), at the request of Lheidli T’enneh Elders, the School District 57 (SD57) Board of Education voted to begin engaging in the process to rename the new Kelly Road to the Dakelh name Shas ti Secondary School, which means grizzly bear trail or path.
The 58-year-old institution is being replaced with a newly-constructed building scheduled to be completed this September.
Dove says she wanted to speak out about the matter because she genuinely worries and fears for the Indigenous students in the community.
“I was there 10 years ago and I know that if I had been in that school during this time where my friends and my friends' families are publicly saying how much this is an upset to them, I worry that I wouldn’t be able to stand up for myself and that I would internalize that aggression.”
Opposition towards the name change has resulted in numerous negative comments on social media. On Wednesday (Feb. 26), about 100 Kelly Road Secondary students equipped with signs and chants against the change protested on Highway 97.
An online petition against the change was also started only hours after the decision was announced, which now has thousands of signatures.
“The Indigenous students are already going through so much on a day-to-day basis that they can’t express or feel safe to express themselves,” adds Dove.
In a Wednesday statement, Board Chair Tim Bennett said offensive and disrespectful language will not be tolerated at any schools or any school district online platforms.
“Comments made at home, at school and online can have a deep impact on our students' well-being," said Bennett.
Dove says she thinks one positive outcome from the outcry over the name change is that it has opened the doors for the community to have an important conversation.
“This whole controversy has actually become a really positive experience for me and for others,” says Dove, noting that she’s started having conversations aimed at educating others about the history of the Dakelh people on the land.
“With some of those conversations, because I went down the route of education and openness a few people that I know and went to high school with, friends or parents, said ‘I never thought of it that way’.”
She says this issue has given her the tools to hold these conversations and hold people accountable for their comments.
“I think there’s so much history that wasn’t taught to us, at that school – Kelly Road – where I graduated from. Nothing of the peoples were taught to us so it’s no wonder that those students who are now grown-up don’t know anything about it. “
She says for Indigenous youth, this won’t be the first time that they are faced with adversity such as this.
“I know what it feels like to have gone through the public school system in Prince George and I know how many struggles come along with that but there is a lot of hope on the other side and this is a small chapter of their lives,” says Dove.
She says there are supports in the community for Indigenous youth, such as leaders, Elders and even herself.
“I think it’s up to the adults, the leaders, the teachers in the community to vocalize positivity and an open mind. We are bound to have different opinions depending on how we were raised. Moving forward all we can do with that is try our best to see the opinions of those people around us.”
In his statement, Bennett announced the school district will now be outlining a series of opportunities for community engagement regarding the project.
“I appreciate people that feel strongly about Kelly Road and their experience there, and that is a really great thing, but just because there is a name change doesn’t mean that those memories for them will ever change, or go away, or be lost,” says Dove.
“It’s just a new chapter and only the first step of many more to come. “