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Opinion, Dave Dale: Another learning opportunity

Every journey begins with the first step and it is vital to get that part right. And judging by the public feedback and official commentary there’s already some gum stuck to the bottom of their shoes.
2017 05 18 Chippewa Secondary School (2)
File photo.

The Near North District School Board of Trustees and the Chippewa Intermediate and Secondary School officials are in the education business – and they are about to learn a few things.

Same can be said for the North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre leadership. In fact, the recently initiated exercise of rebranding Chippewa Intermediate and Secondary School will probably school all of us in one way or another.

To begin, it’s important those involved do their homework before setting out on such an adventure. Every journey begins with the first step and it is vital to get that part right. And judging by the public feedback and official commentary there’s already some gum stuck to the bottom of their shoes.

We should also rewind the tape a bit to get a better understanding of what precipitated the actual “identity crisis” taking place at the corner of Chippewa and High streets. Much of it is due to the sloppy handling of school amalgamations by the Near North board, almost a full decade of tomfoolery in my estimation.

I could see them scrubbing both the Chippewa and Widdifield brands altogether just to get past the poor handling of a host of issues. It smells awfully disingenuous to base it on a progressive social justice campaign.

Don’t get me wrong, there needed to be a change at Chippewa. The Joe Raider mascot (initial version) and culture-appropriating logos and symbolism go a step beyond the pale – especially when viewed through a modern lens of being more respectful of Indigenous Peoples. It’s easy to see, though, why and how the school leaned so heavily toward the Indigenous identity for sports purposes: Chippewa Raiders was cool until it wasn’t. That’s exactly why the school and local Indigenous community went through the exercise they did a few years back.

When looking at the root of the school’s Chippewa name, the Raiders moniker aside, there is a deeper history to consider. The high school is literally built on top of the Fort Chippewa Barracks where the Algonquin Regiment trained soldiers for the First and Second World Wars. Whether or not the local Indigenous community was consulted on the Canadian military’s naming protocols, we know it reflects the military alliance between the British and Anishinabe Peoples before, during, and after the War of 1812. The English called them Ojibwe and Americans used the term Chippewa (say them together fast and you’ll get the idea).

I’m still a little fuzzy on the Algonquin origin, although I know it is used to describe the people who had shared culture, language, and history in this land before colonization by us Europeans.

Scratch a little deeper and you’ll find that the 1850 treaty between the Crown and Indigenous people between Nipissing west to Sault Ste. Marie and north to Lake Nipigon had some of its foundation built on that military alliance. North Bay would be South Bay without the treaty, as far as I can tell.

I was surprised and disappointed to read that the president of the North Bay Indigenous Friendship Centre, Maurice Switzer, was unaware and dismissive of Chippewa people here, as well as the historical linkages. He does a lot of good work but sometimes I find him too eager for a fight – more than me even, which says a lot.

Maybe I’m biased from my own experience.

Back in 1994, I rented a room in a Fourth Avenue home from a Chippewa man, Vernon Roote of the Chippewas of Saugeen, who was deputy grand chief of the Anishinabek Nation (then referred to corporately as the Union of Ontario Indians). They had recently moved the head office to Nipissing First Nation from its offices in Toronto and I was the managing editor of their Anishinabek News monthly publication.

The grand chief at the time was Joe Miskokomon, from the Chippewa of the Thames. I believe Nipissing University bestowed an honourary degree on him at one point. I also know a Chippewa man from North Bay who graduated from Chippewa high school, with his children also attending.

I know what Switzer was getting at with the lack of consultation in using names for Indigenous people without consultation or blessing. He stepped offside, however, in suggesting that the renaming movement spread to the municipal level with the potential to reconsider the names of Chippewa Street and Chippewa Creek. From what I can gather, neither the Nipissing First Nation leadership nor a majority of members sees it as a priority. And I suspect they also know it’s being driven by people with their own agendas.

I keep hearing people do Indigenous recognition before meetings and events, and it’s usually affirming that they are in Nipissing FN and Anishinabek traditional territory. So I think the protocol would be to consult them before being representative of a cause on their behalf. The city should just wait until the Nipissing leadership decides it is a priority.

The bottom line is likely to be found in the Near North board changing the name for the real reason – the closing of Widdifield and sloppy amalgamation. Don’t make it like you’re doing Indigenous people a favour. 

Call it the Central Secondary Soldiers, link it to the military history, and play off the connection with the North Bay Battalion – unless our war history is too much to bear as well.