The more things change

My readers will know that I am not fond of sayings like: 

“We know better now. We don’t do that anymore. It’s 2016! (or whatever year).”

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We haven’t learned, It seems we don’t learn. It is always easier to declare, rather than engage. It is easier to engage, rather than listen. It is easier to listen than it is to absorb and reconsider for the good of all.

School District 57 trustees were faced with a proposal from a stakeholder group, and instead of taking time to consider and consult, they instantly voted for a name change process to begin for Kelly Road Secondary School. I can sympathize with the difficult situation. Voting against the motion would have exposed every trustee to charges of racism or betrayal.  

History and the usual solution to problems have repeated itself. At the time of colonization, progressive leaders (including some Indigenous chiefs), thought that forcefully assimilating Indigenous children was the best. Decisions like the Indian Act, the reservation system, banning ceremonies, the Sixties Scoop, were all thought progressive and modern at the time. Fast forward 100 or so years later and we see the problems caused by those heavy-handed decisions. 

Too frequently, those who believe in the power of government to do good force their ideas upon the population “for their own good.” This may work for a time but eventually the public’s tolerance for bad decisions runs out and the people revolt. 

Then it gets ugly. 

Whenever we see visceral reactions by the public, it is a sign that those in power have gone too far. 

One can always hope that we learn things. Indeed, in the Aboriginal Education department meeting of December 2019, the district makes it clear that employees are to utilize collaborative decision-making, a clear recognition that top-down decisions do not bring about desired results. This is a good thing, and will hopefully spill over into other departments.

The Kelly Road renaming process began the old-fashioned way, with a top-down, heavy-handed decision by well-intentioned people. It is a very bad start to what should bring people together. Anything done in the name of reconciliation should be collaborative, democratic and consultative. This process is not. There is too little time to do it properly; there has been too much bad blood. 

I suggest scrapping the motion and starting from scratch, this time including all the stakeholders. With schools closed for the next several months, this is a good time to come up with a better idea. If ideas are needed, begin with storytellers and elders from the ancestral lands and the colonial elders of each area exchanging stories. Allow them to share histories and then share them to the wider communities. 

Then come up with an idea that would work across the entire district, rather than just one school. Or something, anything, other than this very flawed beginning. We can do better than this.

Even if you disagree with my entire argument, I would like you to consider compassionately the following words of one KRSS parent: “We feel like the entire burden of reconciliation has fallen upon Kelly Road.” And that is unjust.

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