The Lheidli T’enneh First Nation says it feels betrayed by the Prince George school district's (SD57) decision to dually name a replacement school building in the Hart both Shas ti Secondary and Kelly Road Secondary.
After last night’s virtual board meeting (April 28), which lasted nearly four hours, SD57's Board of Education voted four-to-three (4-3) to share the names on the outside of the $44.3-million building, set to open in September this year.
“We’re extremely disappointed in the decision," says Dayi (Chief) Clayton Pountney. "Last night they voted on a dual name and I don't believe that is going to work."
The question about what to name the building first arose on Feb. 25, when Trustee Trent Derrick put forward a motion to "engage in the process" to rename the newly constructed KRSS to Shas Ti, which is Dakelh for 'grizzly bear trail.’
The motion came at the Lheidli T’enneh's request, presented by Elders Kenora Stewart and Clifford Quaw, and was passed unanimously that evening by board members, but was met with immediate protest and backlash within the community.
Pountney claims the dual name will keep scars on the school and could last for decades.
“This is going to create more division in the coming times," says Pountney.
"In the coming decades, when you have a kid saying Shas ti and another kid saying Kelly Road, you might just keep the fighting going. If they had just went with one we could deal with the aftermath now, but this aftermath may last decades now.”
On April 22, the SD57 board completed a public engagement survey that garnered over 2,700 responses and over 800 pages of verbatim data, and found 68 per cent of respondents were in favour of keeping the name Kelly Road Secondary School.
Pountney believes the board bowed to vocal pressure from a group of 'outspoken residents' and has created a 'major roadblock' on the path to truth and reconciliation.
He adds he wasn’t surprised by the backlash, but was supportive of Trustee Derrick’s motion to incorporate Kelly Road's history into the new building by naming the gym 'Kelly Road Gym.'
“The backlash was something that is to be expected, whenever First Nations are doing something progressive, the backlash always comes to us. We are very used to it, and that is sad to say, but we are always compromising and taking backlash."
Pountney says he feels the majority of the board backtracked on its Feb. 25 commitment and believes this has hurt the relationship Lheidli has built with the district over the years.
The Dayi adds, "The board of education has betrayed our nation, our students and our members.”
On Nov. 29, Lheidli T’enneh held its first Balhats in over 73 years, which not only restored the Nation’s governance system, but also celebrated the relationship between the Host First Nation and SD57.
“We had a Balhats – the first time in 73 years – and that’s about holding people accountable. We have to hold them accountable to their actions. You don’t renege on your word. Where is the respect? Where is the integrity?”
Moving forward, Pountney explains he'll speak with his council to plan the next steps for Lheidli T’enneh but says because of this decision the trust is gone.
“They said the whole process was kind of flawed, but they still made their decision based on that,” says Pountney, noting the board had apologized to the community for a lack of consultation.
“I know people say with heavy hearts we make this decision, but if you have a heavy heart, you know what the right decision is, but you are not going along with it."
On May 28, 2019, Pountney had called for a Lheidli T’enneh seat to be added to SD57's board of education, but now says he’s not sure what will happen with that process.
“If we are going to push to do anything we need a board we can trust will do the right thing. This has hurt the reputation between us and SD57. It just has."
"All I can say for sure is that our relationship with SD57 has been damaged by those board members who changed their vote. And it will take a very long time to heal.”