Students demand change to Langevin School name

CALGARY — A group of elementary students say they won’t give up their effort to rename their school in Calgary’s Bridgeland neighbourhood.

Langevin School is named for Hector-Louis Langevin, a father of confederation who many see an an architect of Canada’s residential school system.

The Grade 5 and 8 students say they think about how different their lives would be if they were born into an Indigenous community during a different time.

“I think about that,” says Grade 5 student Seth Helfenbaum.

“You would get taken away from your families, it would have a big impact on you.”

Residential school saw children being taken from their families and forbid from speaking their mother tongue, while also forcing them to practise Christianity.

“Even though he’s dead and even though that was a long time ago, a lot of the pain that was suffered there is still happening today and is still being show,” said Seth’s older brother Zach.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission determined the trauma of more than a century of forced separations and cultural suppression lead to widespread damage that is still being felt today.

“Quite frankly, you still see a lot of people with addictions from the trauma that have come from Indian residential schools and that concept of erasure of a culture,” says Michelle Robinson, an Indigenous community activist and supporter of the students’ efforts.

She says her own daughter would like to attend the highly regarded school, but will not as long as the name remains.

The students made their case before the CBE’s board of trustees last week, but say they have been discouraged by the lack of feedback.

The city renamed the nearby Langevin Bridge to Reconciliation Bridge just over four years ago.

The Calgary Board of Education said in a statement Monday that is recognizes persisten racism exists and is working to develop a process to revisit the naming of schools.

Langevin’s role in the establishment of the destructive residential school system is not without debate.

Some historians who have also acknowledged the deep wound left by residential schools have questioned how central Langevin was to the policy, saying the case against him is based on a few sentences from a budget debate in 1883.

They have argued that his words, while offensive, were simply repeating the policy laid out by then prime minister Sir John A MacDonald.

The Langevin Block of the Parliment buildings in Ottawa, home to the prime minister’s office, was renamed in 2017 in an effort toward reconciliation.

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