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SD57 Board Chair Tim Bennett releases statement on Kelly Road Secondary name change amid controversy

Letter comes after controversy over changing of the high school's 58-year-old name
Kelly Road - Tim Bennett
SD57 Board Chair Tim Bennett (right) and trustees voted unanimously to begin the process of renaming Kelly Road Secondary School to Shas ti Secondary by request of the Lheidli T'enneh. (via Kyle Balzer/Tim Bennett)

School District 57's Board of Education Chair has released a statement following controversy over a possible name change at a local Prince George high school. 

Last night (Feb. 26), in a unanimous decision, and at the request of Lheidli T’enneh Dayi (Chief) Clay Pountney and Elders, SD57 trustees agreed to take the step forward to truth and reconciliation in renaming Kelly Road to Shas ti, which, in Dakelh, means ‘Grizzly Bear Trail’ or ‘Path.’

The approval hasn't sat well with everyone, with some signing a petition to voice their displeasure with the decision and some students from the high school are voicing their displeasure as well.

At roughly Noon today (Feb. 26), some students stood on the road outside Kelly Road Secondary with signs and chants against the potential new name while a petition has circulated online which has more than 5,500 signatures. 

SD57 Board Chair Tim Bennett has since issued a letter, saying they acknowledge they failed to fully engage the community connected to Kelly Road school while also offering clarification.

"We acknowledge that there is passion and school spirit for Kelly Road and the Hart community that was exhibited today, which will probably continue for some time as we move through this process," he said. 

"Given our enthusiasm for the new direction, we acknowledge that we failed to fully engage the community connected to Kelly Road school."

"We need to be clear that the motion carried at the Feb. 25, 2020 Regular Public Board Meeting was to 'engage in the process' of a new name, and the Board of Education is committed to doing so before the school opening in Sept. 2020."

The School District also announced in the letter that they will now be outlining a series of opportunities for community engagement regarding the project. 

"They will provide a forum for purposeful dialogue to move forward," the statement reads. 

Bennett also said while they understand the passion and emotional connections in the community, any offensive and disrespectful language is not acceptable because of the situation. 

"I want to be clear, however, that although we understand the emotional connection our parents, students, alumni and community members have for Kelly Road, offensive and disrespectful language will not be tolerated at our schools or on SD57 online platforms, comments made at home, at school and online can have a deep impact on our students' well-being."

Dayi (Chief) Clay Pountney and Lheidli Elders Kenora Stewart and Clifford Quaw attended last night's (Feb. 25) board meeting to share stories about the area now known as the Hart Highway, which was at one time, a populous grizzly bear habitat.

“I remember vividly, as a young girl, my grandfather telling us stories of his hunting journey on the land and how it was known as one of the great berry-picking areas and how the berries and vegetation attracted to many bears including grizzlies,” said Stewart.

Trustee Trent Derrick made the motion that the board engage in the process to rename the newly constructed Kelly Road Secondary School to Shas ti.

“We, as a board, have made a commitment to the truth and reconciliation and sealed this commitment in unity with the Lheidli T’enneh in their government system of the Balhats. It was here that we made the commitment to work nation-to-nation and government system-to-government system,” said Derrick.

“In the spirit of the work, what has been presented to us tonight is the opportunity to honour our commitment to move forward. Tonight, we have a chance to honour the long history of the Lheidli T’enneh and make a statement that this board will be different in its relationship with the Lheidli T’enneh.”

Chair Tim Bennett said the board would be kidding themselves if they didn’t think there would be people questioning the change.

“We know that Kelly Road has a history and legacy in this district and that there’s going to be people questioning this decision, but I also believe it’s the right thing to do,” said Bennett.

Bennett added he's looking forward to standing beside the Lheidli T’enneh to help them share the stories and knowledge of the land they presented to the board during the meeting, and engage students in the process of developing a new identity for the building.  

“Not everyone will agree and that’s okay because this is a good rebirth for the high school north of the Nechako.”

The board then voted unanimously to approve the recommendation to begin the renaming process, and applause from the gallery immediately followed.

“We always had history in that area and the elders came and shared their stories about it and it turned out very well,” said Dayi Pountney after the decision.

“Now that it’s done, we have to work together to make all of this happen.”

Trustee Derrick, who tabled the motion, said he was excited it was unanimous.

“I think the board has really committed themselves to truth and reconciliation and UNDRIP, and I think this is the first step.”

If you have direct feedback, you can email kellyroadfeedback@sd57.bc.ca.

- with files from Hanna Petersen and Kyle Balzer, PrinceGeorgeMatters