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Nanaimo’s Coal Tyee school could potentially be renamed Syuẁén’ct

Committee suggests new name, meaning ‘our traditions,’ for elementary school
Nanaimo Ladysmith Public Schools is looking to re-name Coal Tyee Elementary School to Syuẁén’ct. (News Bulletin photo)

The Nanaimo-Ladysmith school district has initiated public consultation that could lead to a new name for Coal Tyee Elementary School.

The district formed a committee in January to explore re-branding the central Nanaimo school, subsequently holding discussions with members of Snuneymuxw First Nation, with the potential name Syuẁén’ct. The word means ‘our traditions’ or ‘our history’ in the Hul’q’umin’um’ language, according to a staff report.

Trustees unanimously voted to enter into a 30-day consultation period at a special meeting on Wednesday, June 1.

The school is currently named after an Indigenous man, Ki-et-sa-kun, or Coal Tyee (great coal chief), who brought the area’s coal deposits to the attention of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the 1850s. While it was thought the name was reflective of collaboration between First Nations and settlers and Nanaimo’s coal mining history, Ki-et-sa-kun is also seen as someone who inadvertently led to colonization of the area, and thus a “tragic figure” in the eyes of Snuneymuxw, said the report. Colonization subsequently had negative consequences for area Indigenous peoples, including abuse and trauma spanning generations. As such, the name doesn’t adhere to the school district’s truth and reconciliation policy, the report said.

At the meeting, Joan Brown, Snuneymuxw First Nation chief administrative officer, suggested elders and chief and council are in full support of the name change and the proposed name.

“This one word, there’s so much meaning that I think that ‘history’ is really an understatement … when we say we’re going to walk together, what it really means is we’re leaving a legacy or inheritance,” said Brown. “We’re not doing this for us, but we’re doing it for the future because if we don’t do it now, everything will be lost.”

The board also voted unanimously to initiate 30-day consultation for potential renaming of Nanaimo District Secondary School Community Field to Q’unq’inuqwstuxw. The term translates to ‘return’ or ‘pass it back’ in Coast Salish, something Snuneymuxw athletes say to one another while playing soccer, the staff report said.

“It is really about connectivity, it’s about healing, it’s about walking together and from our perspective, truly is that it’s going to enhance the recreational sports experience to a much deeper level,” Brown said.

Consultation will begin immediately with feedback compiled into a report anticipated for July. The committee will work on a plan detailing how the changes will be instituted, stated the report.

“The cost associated with any changes beyond a school sign have not been contemplated at this point because any other changes that might carry a monetary cost need to be done in consultation with the school community and the learning that will come through the support of the ad hoc committee,” Charlene McKay, board chairperson, told trustees at the meeting. “We would ensure that those costs are covered by the board.”

Brown, superintendent Scott Saywell, trustees McKay, Greg Keller and Bill Robinson and principal Diane Charles are among members of the committee.

For more information about the proposals, including links to an online survey and on how to provide feedback, go to Feedback will be accepted until July 1.

RELATED: SD68 board votes to proceed with re-naming Coal Tyee school

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Karl Yu

About the Author: Karl Yu

I joined Black Press in 2010 and cover education, court and RDN. I am a Ma Murray and CCNA award winner.
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