School board shoots itself in both feet

So many interesting “what ifs” in the Shas Ti/Kelly Road naming debacle for the new Hart high school.

Here’s one.

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What if Sharel Warrington, the longtime school board trustee who taught at Kelly Road during her teaching career, had abstained from Tuesday’s vote?

If she had, the vote would have ended in a 3-3 tie and the motion to give the new $44.3 million school set to open in September the dual name of Kelly Road Secondary and Shas Ti Secondary would have been defeated.

Instead, she chose to back the compromise with Tim Bennett, Ron Polillo and Bob Thompson. Trustees Betty Bekkering, Shuirose Valimohamed and Trent Derrick voted against, with all three making it clear their preference was that the new school should be named Shas Ti Secondary.

Now imagine if the next motion would have been to name the new school Shas Ti Secondary and again Warrington abstained. 

Another 3-3 tie and the motion would have been defeated.

If no trustee would have been willing to change their vote, Warrington – the only trustee in favour of transferring Kelly Road, the name of the current high school, to the new school – could have got her way in a bizarre turn of events.

There was nothing hypothetical about the mess the school board found itself in after unanimously voting to engage in the naming process after a presentation at a Feb. 25 meeting by Lheidli T’enneh Chief Clayton Pountney and two elders. They urged the trustees to name the school Shas Ti Secondary when it opened in September, catching Kelly Road teachers, students and the Hart neighbourhood completely by surprise.

This was a no-win situation, with the school board left with the decision of which foot it would shoot itself. Faced with that gruelling choice, the school board decided to shoot both feet instead.

All of this endless political and cultural strife could have been avoided with one simple policy decision. School District 57 should have pledged to the Lheidli T’enneh at that Feb. 25 meeting that the names of all future schools built, regardless of whether the school is a new addition or replacing an old school, will recognize this area’s Indigenous peoples. Since the new Hart high school was practically finished, Kelly Road would be the last school to carry over its name.

That way, everyone would know the rules well in advance and area First Nations would be part of the process from the very beginning, not when the new school is months away from opening. Such a policy would engage both Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents and students together in the naming process.

The result wouldn’t necessarily be a word or phrase like Shas Ti, which means grizzly path. Perhaps a prominent Indigenous local historical figure, such as Mary John, Mary Gouchie or Granny Seymour, could be recognized. 
Unfortunately, Bennett’s fear that the new Hart high school will open under a “black cloud” will come to pass.

If there’s one thing both Kelly Road and Shas Ti proponents can agree on, it is Chief Poutney’s comment that the dual name will simply keep the debate raging for years to come. 

The problem with a dual name is you can’t say both of them at the same time so the very act of choosing one – alone or saying one first and then the other - will be seen as a political statement, even when that’s not the intent.

And what about the practical things, like which name comes first on the letterhead or on the sign at the new school? How will both names be displayed on sports jerseys?

There were going to be angry and frustrated people no matter which name was chosen. Choosing both just means that anger and frustration will continue to simmer away indefinitely.

That doesn’t sound like anyone’s idea of reconciliation.

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