What’s In A Name?

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There is a debate afoot across Turtle Island around if we should be removing the names of harmful historical people and replacing them with more appropriate figures and names. Right here in Winnipeg, the debate rages around Bishop Grandin Boulevard, in Victoria BC with a monument to Sir John A MacDonald or in Halifax with statues for Cornwallis. How should we respond to this?

I have always believed that history is important. As time moves on, in different contexts, revelations will alter and change the way we see things in the past. It doesn’t mean we should ignore what happened — it means we should be reacting appropriately with the best available information available to us. We should always be willing to be told when something we are doing is harmful or not achieving what we hoped. We should always be listening. We should not be ashamed or embarrassed of our lack of knowledge when facts are revealed and we should always correct our behaviour moving forward. And our actions should always bring into the fold, those who we now know were indeed harmed or hurt.

When AYO first began we called ourselves an anti-gang. It was important as we began our work together that we were clear with people what we were opposed to, what we felt we were the opposite of. We were also alienating the very people we wanted to bring into our circle, the very peers and people we wanted to help.  Since we didn’t know what to do, it stayed until the spring of 2012 when we transformed into what we now call the AYO! Movement. With that change, we were able to be more honest about what we believed in, instead of what we were against.  That term of anti-gang will never go away because it is part of our journey. I don’t want people calling us an anti-gang today, in 2018, but I will always include that detail in the AYO Creation Story because it shaped us into who we are.

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I was involved in the committee that helped shortlist Viola Desmond as an important historical female figure who would replace Sir john A MacDonald on the $10 Canadian bankNOTE. Viola’s story is one that her sister fought hard for the rest of the world to see and recognize. We are beginning to recognize it now. We are beginning to make change with the best new information we have available to us. Many voices and perspectives came together including hundreds of recommendations from Canadians to make this decision. It is a great first step in recognizing the contributions women have made to Canada, and I am excited to see a time when all of our money features women (to make up for 150 years of lost time)!

I believe ignorance can be overcome by information. And every community must decide what to do with that information. It is said that “the price of inaction is far greater than the cost of making a mistake” – and in contexts like these I think we all need to take action using the best info we have available and relationships with others to guide us.

I am encouraged by examples like what is happening in Halifax right now where a “special committee that will study how to commemorate the city’s controversial founder — a group co-chaired by a Mi’kmaq chief and an historian. The 10-member group announced Thursday includes five Indigenous representatives.” That is a smart and logical response. I think many of us can learn from these examples and apply that to what is happening in your territory.

So I say take action. Change names. Add commemoration plaques. Rewrite history books. Do what you need to do, but do it together.

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