Updated February 12, 2020 – The School District agrees to change the name.
This post was originally written on January 8, 2017 when the issue of the streets and the school first came to the community in a big way. I wondered for a while whether to make a new post and reference this one, or to add to this original.
I decided to add to it because it seemed appropriate to add to the story, rather than create a new one. That is really what is happening, and what always happens with history.
Last night, on February 11, 2020, the Alberni School District Board of Trustees decided, unanimously, to remove the name of A.W. Neill from their elementary school.
The Board made this decision after a very long and deliberative process that started way back in that January of 2017 when Trustee Buchanan and I presented it formally to the Board (including the document below). And in fact it started even before then as Trustee Buchanan and Chris Stevenson discussed the concept months and years before it came to a head in 2016.
The School District Board and Staff (past and present) should be commended for the process they undertook to first determine a process for renaming schools, and then following that process deliberately and purposely. I was very grateful to have the opportunity to thank them personally at the Board meeting. Their task was difficult and controversial but they handled it professionally and compassionately.
Three years later, the Board ended up receiving over 100 respondents to their request for input in favour of the change, and only a handful opposed. They’ll now move to figuring out what the new name will be by forming a committee. The new policy does not allow the use of someone’s name.
As a result of all of this, the historical injustice of honouring someone that harboured such unique and extreme hatred for others based only on their race and skin colour will have been corrected. In this time especially when racism, white supremacy, and hatred are on the rise around the world, these acts have become doubly important.
Eiko Eby, a member of the National Association of Japanese Canadians was at the Board meeting and congratulated the board, which underlines the importance of this decision not just in this local community but nationally and internationally. The Alberni District Teachers Association also expressed their support during the meeting.
Not mentioned as prominently as it should in much of the coverage is the fact that the first people I talked to after Rosemarie and Chris and I decided to push this, was Jolleen and Cynthia Dick of Hupacasath and Tseshaht. Without their leadership and support throughout the process all this never would have gotten off the ground. And afterwards, with efforts to build reconciliation, it may not have got to this end. Many other First Nation community members and leaders including those on the SD70 Board and of course Mayor Minions played huge roles as well. While the SD70 did the heavy lifting of the removal and change itself, it was truly a community effort and that is the most gratifying thing about it.
The journey continues. In time, hopefully the City of Port Alberni will undertake a similar process that will lead to the honour of a street name being corrected as well.
One thing’s for sure, this marks a new chapter that will add to the story of this man, and the history of this community.
Below is the Original Post from 2017. note: the final version of the Supporting Document about AW Neill presented to Council starts on page 82 of the January 23, 2017 Agenda package.
Updated Thursday Jan 12 Below
Some updates since the weekend:
The Hilton Centre has estimated the cost of a transition coordinator to manage the change of address at $13-$16000. I will encourage Council to cover this cost either through the Community Grants program or directly. Hopefully with the help of provincial and federal grants as well. You can see their letter sent to Council this week at the bottom of the post or here.
Tseshaht First Nation passed a resolution at their AGM supporting the name change of A.W. Neill school. A motion on the street issue did not pass.
John Alan Jack, Chair of the Alberni Clayoquot Regional District and Councillor at the Huu-ay-aht First Nation was interviewed on CBC Radio Wednesday afternoon. Unfortunately, a recording is unavailable, but a couple days before he tweeted:
And finally, the National Association of Japanese Canadians sent a letter to the AV News in addition to citizens supporting the Reconciliation efforts.
The support for this historic bit of work seems to be growing and Port Alberni is being watched by groups all over on how it deals with this important issue.
Below is the Original post from January 8, 2017.
Below you will find a document I have been working on since early December on the issue of Honouring and Renaming Indian Avenue and Neill Street. I didn’t decide to move on with it until after the last council meeting in December.
So that everyone is on the same page with the same information with this difficult conversation, please read the document and this post in full before commenting.
(Note: the final version of the Document presented to Council starts on page 82 of the January 23, 2017 Agenda package.)
This document is a draft. It is only my research. There may be errors and it will change and be updated. If you see an error please let me know.
These are my personal writings. This does not represent the City of Port Alberni.
If you have any trouble viewing the document below, you can download it directly here.
The report includes justifications, history, suggestions on alternative commemorations, costs, and implications for residents and non-residents.
This is an issue that came to me from Chris Stevenson. Below is an interview he did last week with CBC on the topic. He did a paper on A.W. Neill and we started talking about it a few months back with Trustee Rosemarie Buchanan when the school was being switched to an Elementary School.
The motion I will introduce tomorrow (the 9th) will be:
That Council for the City of Port Alberni, in the spirit of Reconciliation, work with the Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nation Councils, the Community and any affected property owners to potentially rename Neill Street.
You might notice mention of Indian Avenue has been removed. After talking with Jolleen Dick of Hupacasath I have decided to remove that at this point but I have kept it in the document since it was part of the original intent and so all of the information is there.
You will also see it says “potentially”. While I believe the renaming should proceed, no final decision will be made on the 23rd when the motion comes up for debate, only a decision on whether to move forward and start the consultation process with property owners, First Nations, the NTC and cultural groups and anyone else affected. This was also my intent from the outset.
Reconciliation is an issue that requires a commitment to calm, thoughtful discussion in order for all views to be heard and respected. I invite your constructive feedback in the comments section.
I have shared this document and post with my fellow Councillors and I will bring it to the Council meeting with the Motion on January 23rd.
What the document does not mention in large part yet is the opportunity for healing. What ceremonies could we undertake? What new memorials could we create? What new understandings could we come to as we acknowledge and work through the pain of the Indian Residential School system, Japanese Internment, and Anti-Immigrant sentiment that have deeply affected our communities?
Those are the questions I would really like to hear answered as they are the ones I think we can get to now that this conversation has begun. It will not solve the Reconciliation question overnight, but I hope it will get us a little ways there.
Please also consider the words of the others involved to this point, Chief Cynthia Dick of Tseshaht, Councillor Jolleen Dick of Hupacasath, Trustee Rosemarie Buchanan of SD70 and others in this AV News article.