Lambton Kent District School Board (LKDSB) Senior Administration has decided to remove the totem pole from the front entry to Tecumseh Public School. The totem pole will be removed during the summer renovations in preparation for the consolidation of students from the John N. Given Public School English Language Program at Tecumseh Public School.
As part of its belief statements, the LKDSB commits to supporting a safe, caring and inclusive learning environment for all, as well its shared responsibility with Indigenous partners to support student success. The LKDSB is committed to increasing students' understanding of Indigenous histories and perspectives, particularly through the expansion of the NBE (English: Contemporary Aboriginal Voices) course and professional development for staff.
In support of these beliefs and to further its understanding, LKDSB contacted Dr. Robin Gray, a Ts'msyen from Lax Kw'alaams, B.C., along with the Council of the Haida Nation, representatives from the local indigenous community and the LKDSB's Indigenous Lead. Gray and representatives from West Coast Indigenous communities believe the totem pole is a symbol of cultural appropriation and as such, should be removed. Additionally, totem poles do not represent Tecumseh, a Shawnee from what is now known as Ohio, as noted by local Indigenous community members.
Totem poles are of cultural significance to Indigenous communities on Canada's West Coast. They are traditionally used to tell the stories of Indigenous families and important historical events.
The totem pole was created by four Tecumseh Secondary School students as an extra-curricular activity and has been located in the school for approximately 45 years. Based on LKDSB records and reports by the students who created it, this was not commissioned by the school, nor the former Kent County Board of Education.
"We have displayed a piece of student work that does not reflect our commitment to creating a safe, caring and inclusive learning environment for all. We now have greater understanding that it is culturally inappropriate to keep the totem pole in the school. Instead, Senior Administration looks to have more culturally respectful symbols in the school to honour Tecumseh," said Director Jim Costello. "In our role as educators, we see this as an opportunity for education and understanding of Indigenous histories and traditions and to further the educational goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action.
"We all play a role in supporting our Indigenous community partners and continuing the ongoing work towards reconciliation," Costello adds. "We feel it is important to engage in ongoing, critical conversations about the symbols and artifacts that decorate our schools. As educators, we need to be leaders for our students so that our learning environments reflect our mission, vision and belief statements."
The LKDSB appreciates and understands the sacred tradition within which these monuments are created. Moving forward, the LKDSB will continue to work with its Indigenous partners to ensure the Tecumseh Public School renovations incorporate an appropriate and accurate celebration of Tecumseh's legacy and the 'Timberwolves' mascot.
For additional information contact:
Elizabeth Hudie, Chair of the Board, 519-542-0939
Jim Costello, Director of Education, 519-336-1500, Ext 31297
For reference information contact:
Heather Hughes, Public Relations Officer, 519-336-1500, Ext. 31262
April 24, 2018