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Officials consider renaming Nanaimo school named for ‘tragic’ Indigenous figure

Coal Tyee, once thought to celebrate collaboration, recalls colonization: school district report
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ education committee is recommending formation of a committee which will examine re-naming Coal Tyee Elementary School. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)

Trustees are considering re-naming a Nanaimo elementary school that bears the colonial-era nickname of a First Nations “tragic figure.”

At its Jan. 5 meeting, Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools’ education committee moved a recommendation to form a committee that will come up with a new name for Coal Tyee Elementary School. According to the City of Nanaimo, Ki-et-sa-kun, also known as Coal Tyee (great coal chief), brought coal in the Nanaimo area to the attention of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the mid-19th century.

An SD68 staff report states that it was previously thought the name “represented a positive story of collaboration between the colonial and Indigenous peoples as well as representing Nanaimo’s heritage with respect to coal mining,” but Ki-et-sa-kun is also seen by Snuneymuxw “as a tragic figure given his interaction with the colonial peoples led directly to purposeful colonization of the area.” As such, the school’s name doesn’t align with district policy.

Speaking at the meeting, Joan Brown, Snuneymuxw First Nation chief administrative officer and district knowledge-keeper, said a new name for the school is important.

“When we think about Coal Tyee … it’s really suggesting that we take a deeper dive in terms of healing and of that deeper understanding of the ancestral lens,” said Brown.

Diane Charles, school principal, spoke about the matter when giving a presentation to trustees at the December committee meeting. Truth and reconciliation is a goal for school staff, she said.

“Coal Tyee the school was named to really honour the coal trade, but the space and place of Coal Tyee is so much more … we’ve got all these different layers we are really bringing forward in an authentic way to make our truth and reconciliation work the cornerstone of what we are doing,” Charles said.

The school board will further discuss the matter at its meeting on Jan. 26.

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

After interning at Vancouver Metro free daily newspaper, I joined Black Press in 2010.
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