Trustees say policy on school naming, renaming requests will reflect inclusion and diversity

The New Westminster school board is hoping to change the way it handles school naming and renaming requests.

In October, Tl’etinqox First Nation Chief Joe Alphonse, part of the six bands that make up the Tsilhqot’in First Nation, sent a letter to the school board asking that it rename New Westminster Secondary School in honour of Chief Ahan once the new school is built.

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Chief Ahan was hanged in 1865 in New Westminster, one of six Tsilhqot’in First Nation war chiefs executed following the Chilcotin War between the Tsilhqot’in people in B.C. and European settlers. (Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued an apology, saying the six chiefs were leaders of a nation and were acting in accordance with their laws.)

Alphonse and others believe Chief Ahan’s body was buried in the Douglas Road Cemetery, which today is the site of New Westminster Secondary School.

The previous school board decided not to make a decision on Alphonse’s renaming request, opting to pass it along to the new board.

It was this request that motivated trustee Gurveen Dhaliwal to put forward a motion recommending the district create a policy to handle any future naming or renaming requests that come its way.

“One thing that was very apparent with that was that we didn’t have any sort of process in place to address that, and understanding that we weren’t able to make an informed decision,” she told trustees at the March 12 school board meeting.

And it’s not enough just to have a policy outlining how these requests are handled, added Dhaliwal.

She also wants to see the policy reflect the district’s values of inclusion and diversity to help guide the board’s decision-making process.

Trustee Maya Russell applauded the motion.

“It’s hard to take colonization out of any of the names of our schools or the name of our city. The more you peel back the onion, the more you get the same results. I think that this is work we need to do. We’ve taken on a lot of work as a district and I know we can’t do everything but thinking about things like what our schools are called is an important part of reconciliation. It’s not everything, but it is a piece,” she said.

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