Historic but ‘offensive’ name will be scrubbed from Oakville school

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Published March 7, 2024 at 9:15 pm

school Iroquois Oakville name Indigenous
An Oakville school will have its name changed because it has been deemed offensive.

A name long associated with North America’s Indigenous community is now deemed offensive and will lead to a change at an Oakville school.

Iroquois Ridge High School will go through the renaming process after the Halton District School Board reacted to an anonymous claim that “Iroquois” is a derogatory term.

A short report presented to trustees last night (March 6) indicated the board must make the change out of respect for Canada’s Native people.

“The HDSB has received a formal request from a community member to consider renaming Iroquois Ridge High School at 1123 Glenashton Drive in Oakville, with the following rationale: “Iroquois” is a colonial settler term for the Haudenesaunee and is seen as a derogatory term and is not respectful of Indigenous peoples,” the report states.

The school is located in the Oakville neighbourhood known as Iroquois Ridge located east of Trafalgar Road between Dundas Street and Upper Middle Road. There is also an Iroquois Ridge Recreation Centre, which is operated by the Town of Oakville, located near the school.

Used since European settlers arrived in North America during the 15th century, the Iroquois name is common in Ontario but is also used in Quebec, New York and Pennsylvania. Historically the name has been co-opted and used for towns, streets, parks, sports teams, restaurants, hotels, and food and beverage products. Haudenesaunee is considered the correct term to call the people of this Indigenous nation.

In explaining the need for change, Superintendent of Education Claire Proteau said the school meets the criteria to commence the renaming process and encouraged trustees not to debate the relevancy of the current name because “it has already been confirmed to be inappropriate.” That directive didn’t sit well with some trustees.

​Although she agreed that the name change was warranted, Oakville Wards 3&6 Trustee Tanya Rocha disagreed with the process saying the report and recommendation were incomplete and lacked the details necessary for the board to make an informed decision.

“There’s no history involved in the report,” said Rocha. “Any time we receive a request to rename a school it would be helpful to get a full picture of why we are doing so, why was it named this way in the first place, and an explanation of why it was deemed derogatory and what Treaty partners (members of the Indigenous community) were consulted.”

Rocha also pointed to the cost of making the name change — estimated at $250,000 — at a time when the board is under fiscal restraints.

Rocha questioned Director of Education Curtis Ennis on who filed the complaint and he responded the board did not have permission to reveal the person’s name. When asked again later Ennis said the complainant was anonymous.

Ennis, too, encouraged the board to make a quick decision saying that if the matter was delayed the board’s Treaty partners would be further harmed.

“It would be continually damaging and hurtful to use the name,” said Ennis.

Carole Baxter, trustee for Oakville’s Ward 1&2, agreed with Rocha indicating the process was flawed and felt that trustees were being pressured to make a decision.

“I’m disappointed around this conversation,” said Baxter. “This report was very light on information and trustees are being asked to make a decision that I feel will make a significant financial impact. I am disappointed that this conversation is being framed in terms of our respect for our Treaty partners which I have the utmost respect for. I didn’t hear any objection or concern around the (board) table about changing a name that is hurtful and harmful but I think the reality of being a trustee…is that we have a financial responsibility.”

A motion to delay the decision was defeated and eventually, the board voted to approve the process to change the name. A time frame on when that will happen has not been determined. A committee will be formed that will consult with members of the community before a new name is chosen.

Trustees could ultimately reject the name change when the committee reports its findings but that is unlikely based on the sentiments expressed around the board table at the meeting.

The last time the Halton District School Board changed the name of a school was in 2021 in response to the backlash against Egerton Ryerson for his role in creating residential schools, the government-sponsored religious facilities that were established in the 1800s to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture. This change happened in Burlington where Ryerson Public School was renamed Makwendam Public School.

When contacted by inhalton.com, a parent who has children attending Iroquois Ridge High School said the community would be caught off guard by the news but couldn’t predict what the reaction would be.

“We heard rumours but it seemed like it was just talk, nothing serious,” she said. “The name has been in use for a long time so I have to wonder why it took so long for somebody to get upset. But if it’s legitimate I guess we have to do something.”

Iroquois Ridege High School opened in 1994.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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