Vancouver school trustees have long stated that decolonization and reconciliation are at the top of their collective to-do lists.
Three massive First Nations welcome posts are being erected in the coming days to coincide with National Indigenous Peoples day on June 21. East Vancouver’s Sir William Macdonald elementary was renamed Xpey’ elementary in the fall of 2017 — Xpey means “cedar” in the Musqueam dialect of henqeminem. Board chair Janet Fraser told the Courier after her successful re-election last year that reconciliation in education was her top priority heading into her new mandate.
Come next week, OneCity trustee Jennifer Reddy’s motion will go before the board to remove a sign at L’Ecole Bilingue bearing the name of 19th century mining magnate Cecil Rhodes. The school is located near Oak Street and 14th Avenue.
Born in England in the mid-1800s, Rhodes helped found the De Beers diamond trade and was a figure of tense political disdain in South Africa. Rhodes has been quoted in various publications, including the BBC, as having stated that the English were a master race and therefore entitled to vast wealth and land.
Some have linked his political influence and wealth as contributing to Apartheid in South Africa.
“Cecil Rhodes does not represent the values of our district nor contribute to the wellbeing of students, staff, families, and communities in our district,” Reddy said in a news release. “Any further upholding of names like CR in our district make us complicit in his legacy.”
The VSB has since boarded up the sign after news of Reddy’s motion went public on June 10. A note attached to the covering reads: “This piece of school’s former staircase is covered after concerns were raised about it bearing the name of the school. This will allow time to support and engage with the school community about how historical wrongs should be recognized and together find a way forward.”
A scholarship created after Rhodes’ death — known as the Rhodes Scholarship — is given to international students to this day, allowing them access to education at Oxford University.
A statue bearing Rhodes’ likeness was removed from the University of Cape Town in 2015. It was precipitated by a social media campaign galvanized around the hashtag #Rhodesmustfall.
Reddy’s motion will go before a district committee on Wednesday, June 19 and her motion in full reads as follows:
“It is recommended that as per our commitment to acknowledge and address anti-black racism, and as supported by the school's PAC, the VSB immediately remove the Cecil Rhodes sign from the primary playground area of L’Ecole Bilingue and any other reference to Cecil Rhodes be removed from the school property. Notice of the removal be sent to parents at that school and through social media channels to community members outlining the reasons for removal as included in this rationale.”
— This story has been updated since it was first published.