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Parallels in attempts to rename Chippewa, Iroquois Ridge schools

Chippewa deemed 'unacceptable,' and in Oakville, Iroquois is seen as 'derogatory.' An attempt by the Halton District School Board to rename Iroquois Ridge High School has — like the local Chippewa situation — resulted in backlash from the Indigenous community for its lack of involvement and a petition with thousands of signatures against the proposal
The renaming process for two Ontario schools is on pause pending meaningful Indigenous consultation.

The process of renaming two Ontario schools — bearing names deemed offensive by some — has followed similar paths and resistance leading to dramatic changes of heart about moving forward by their respective school boards.

The recommendation to rename

In December 2022, Near North District School Board trustees unanimously approved a motion to initiate the renaming and rebranding process for Chippewa Secondary School in North Bay. 

See related: 'Unacceptable' Chippewa Raiders name must go — school board

The trustees followed a staff recommendation that deemed the use of "Chippewa" and "Raider" in combination as "unacceptable." A naming committee was established to recommend a new name to the Board of Trustees. 

See also: School Board citing Human Rights Code for renaming Chippewa

The school's mascot was removed from use in the years leading up to the initiation of the renaming process and the school's thunderbird logo fell under scrutiny as possible cultural appropriation. Changing the school's nickname appeared to be the next step in the process but the January 2022 arrival of Krista Tucker-Petrick, the school's principal, reignited the conversation to change the school's name altogether.

See also: Renaming an Oakville high school comes with a price of $250,000

Fast forward to March. The coverage by Village Media's Oakville News of a Halton District School Board meeting by reporter Ben Brown revealed the school board had received "a formal request from a community member to consider renaming Iroquois Ridge High School," via Heather Francey, the manager of communications for the school board. “Staff have reviewed the submitted rationale," Francey continued, "and have determined that it meets the criteria for initiating a review of the school name as outlined in the governance procedure.”

The main concern, Brown wrote, is that "Iroquois" is considered derogatory.

“The board's School Naming governance procedure indicates that the director shall forward renaming requests and rationale to the board, and where it appears that the request meets the criteria established in the governance procedure, an estimate of the cost of renaming the school will also be provided.”

During that meeting, Halton trustees "expressed concerns about the estimated $250,000 cost of a name change, highlighting the need for fiscal responsibility amidst budget constraints," Brown reported. The school board trustees also pointed out the name change would not end with the high school, as numerous other Oakville locations share the name Iroquois, including its community centre.

While the cost to fully rename and rebrand Chippewa was never officially determined, the preliminary estimate in 2022 to purchase new sports uniforms for intermediate and secondary sports teams alone was $53,800. Many in the community responded to the proposal to rename Chippewa with questions about the shared name of the nearby street, creek, and military barracks. 

The community pushes back

petition named “Stop Erasing History, Save Iroquois Ridge," collected 1,300 signatures within two days and neared 3,000 in early April.

The petition reads, “Abruptly, without consultation with the students, parents, the urban Indigenous community, or our local community members, the Halton District School Board announced this historical school's name would be changed due to an anonymous letter and opinion the word 'Iroquois' is a 'derogatory term.' 

"We honour the name Iroquois Ridge as it reminds us of the sacrifices and resiliency of all Indigenous people and the connection to this beautiful land we call home."

See related: ‘We honour the name’; Hundreds of Oakville residents upset at high school name change request

Angela Bellegarde, the founder of Tâpwêwin Indigenous Insights Inc. told Oakville News by email, “Anything that has an Indigenous name, reference, or otherwise should always be done so with the appropriate Indigenous group's input and consent. In this case, the Haudenosaunee needs to be part of decision-making. Moreover, Oakville is on the Treaty lands held with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nations. Perhaps the town needs to consider a robust consultation with many Indigenous peoples of this territory.” 

In North Bay, a petition created by citizen Stephen Brown designed to stop the school board from renaming Chippewa garnered 3,000 signatures of its own in a much smaller population centre than Oakville.

Jim Montagnes, whose father served on the school board when Chippewa was named, and who attended all five of his high school years at Chippewa, beginning in the school's first in 1958, wrote in a 2023 letter to BayToday:

"Chippewa was named in the same manner as the street and creek, as an honour to a cultural Indigenous nation that lived in the North Bay area. Remember folks this was in the late '50s, not in woke time 2023. I can tell you these people put in a lot of personal time to make things right for the staff, students and area and that included all students — Indigenous and non-Indigenous.

"I do not know about mascots or cheers, nor would I support any which are disrespectful to any group of people. But the name of the school? Surely, in this day, especially in North Bay, there are enough issues for the school board to be debating and working to improve. My information is anecdotal but I certainly am hearing a lot of stories about the decision to place a homeless shelter so close to Chippewa. Maybe that is education in itself if it is used as such.

"If this school board is so set on going against what appears to be a large majority of its voters, maybe it should pass the motion but leave the action until after the next election. I suspect it will be an issue."

Lack of Indigenous consultation

In March 2023, Indigenous community leader George Couchie weighed in on the renaming debate, telling BayToday he believes the Near North District School Board was falling behind the other local school boards when it came to truth and reconciliation and community building.

"Scollard has been doing all this work, working with Indigenous people. Their programs are all so solid but when it comes to the public board now they are thinking they have to do something and they have jumped to the conclusion before they even went to Nipissing First Nation whose traditional territory was North Bay many years ago.

"And really, have they asked them? Have they engaged in anything? But they haven't as far as I know." 

Petition author Brown presented during an April 2023 school board meeting and maintained the school “was named in respect of the First Nation Chippewas,” adding changing the name would “be an act of total disrespect which would have the effect of insensitively erasing the history of these peoples.”

He noted the board outlined the Chippewa name was selected without consulting or considering the Indigenous community but “there is no empirical evidence that this name was selected without consultation or consideration. The report is flawed.”

In early April, just weeks after the decision to rename Iroquois Ridge High School was made public, Oakville News reporter Brown consulted local leaders in the Indigenous community on the status of the Oakville school controversy.

See: Erasing ‘Iroquois’; Halton’s Indigenous communities say they weren't consulted on high school name change

Harbour criticized the decision-making process surrounding the school’s name change for lacking transparency, collaboration, and accountability, suggesting that it disregarded principles of reconciliation.

"The more the community speaks out, the more we find out the decision to move for a name change was guided by a consultant who refers to themselves as a ‘treaty partner’, which is probably misleading to many," said Jody Harbour, co-founder of Grandmother’s Voice, an organization that aims to revive and amplify Indigenous ancestral insights and values, nurturing them for future generations.

The decision was "guided in a biased way," she added.

Harbour has children who have attended and will attend Iroquois Ridge High School.

"My Father died at 52 only knowing he was an ‘Iroquois Indian.’ When I moved into this area 20 years ago, and saw the signs that said ‘Iroquois,’ it moved me to research and do my genealogy that found my family on Six Nations and put me on the path to co-create Grandmother’s Voice."

Renaming paused — for now?

Ben Brown also covered the Halton District School Board meeting in early April, at which a unanimous decision was reached to rescind the previous motion and prioritize consultation with the Indigenous community before renaming Iroquois Ridge High School, Brown reported in Oakville News. 

See: Halton District School Board decides more consultation needed before renaming Iroquois Ridge High School

"As treaty people, our community was not consulted," said Harbour, who appeared as a delegate. "Consultation is the first step in everything that we do and not the last one." 

Harbour referred to the board's code of conduct and said that they didn’t make it through the first two steps: "The conduct and approach of this board didn’t even get through the first two steps of their own standards of behaviour."

Those steps, according to the board, are to respect and comply with all applicable federal, provincial, and municipal laws; and, to demonstrate honesty and integrity.

"What I’ve witnessed," Harbour continued, "and have been thrust into since March 7 [when the announcement was made] is disrespect for these frameworks, the perpetuation of systemic oppression, systemic racism, discrimination, and most disappointingly coercion that has caused further harm, with a divide and conquer attack on our urban indigenous people."

See also: School board reconsiders ‘contentious’ renaming of Chippewa

In late 2023, the Near North District School Board voted to rescind the original motion to rename Chippewa Secondary School. 

Trustee Louise Sargent forwarded the motion to rescind. She did so in response to a meeting in October, in which trustees were informed that for “further discussion” to take place on renaming the school, the original motion calling for the renaming and rebranding “had to be rescinded.”

In October 2023, Trustee Julie Bertram put forward a motion to halt the process of renaming the school until “appropriate Indigenous consultation and collaboration” occurs. She noted in that motion when the discussion of renaming the school began in September 2017, the goal was to “rebrand, not rename” Chippewa.

And: School board forges ahead with Chippewa rebranding

Following that same meeting, Director of Education Craig Myles noted, “We need to take a pause and move forward with strategy and a focus on procedural fairness.

“Obviously, this is a very contentious issue — a very complicated issue.”

— With files from Ben Brown, Jeff Turl, David Briggs and Chris Dawson.

Stu Campaigne

About the Author: Stu Campaigne

Stu Campaigne is a full-time news reporter for, focusing on local politics and sharing our community's compelling human interest stories.
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