School board officials have decided to say goodbye to Tecumseh Public School's iconic totem pole amidst concerns of cultural appropriation.
Lambton Kent District School Board (LKDSB) senior administration has decided to remove the totem pole from the front entrance of Tecumseh Public School. The totem pole was created by four Tecumseh Secondary School students and has been featured inside the school for the last 45 years.
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.
"The Transition Committee that is dealing with the amalgamation or consolidation of John N. Given Public School and Tecumseh Public School was asked to look at all kinds of items in the school like plaques on walls, nicknames, school memorabilia, and the issue of the appropriateness or cultural appropriation of the totem pole arose," explains LKDSB Director of Education Jim Costello.
Costello says the school board heard from a delegation organized by the school's alumni association and did a lot of homework before coming to this decision.
According to a news release, the 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, the LKDSB’s Indigenous Lead. Gray and representatives from West Coast Indigenous communities believe the totem pole is a symbol of cultural appropriation and should be removed.
Local Indigenous community members also say totem poles are not representative of Tecumseh. Totem poles are of cultural significance to Indigenous communities on Canada’s west coast and are traditionally used to tell the stories of Indigenous families and important historical events.
Dan Foster, a Tecumseh Secondary School Alumni Reunion Committee member, says he's disappointed, but he's not surprised.
"The board has been shopping for the right answer to their question since last November," says Foster. "It appears they've finally got it in terms of support of indigenous communities that are not from this area."
Foster says it's unfortunate that the board "jumped the gun" and made this decision. He says this discussion is not over yet and he will be seeking appeal options.
"This is the beginning. We've now got the decision that we sought. We now have the criteria that they used to make the decision. We'll weigh our options and see what we can do going forward," he says.
Costello says the totem pole will be given back to the artists who created it.
"Just like any other student piece of work it will be returned to its creators," says Costello. "We're happy to return it to them this summer and they can do with it whatever they choose."
The school board says it is committed to increasing students’ understanding of Indigenous histories and perspectives through the expansion of the Contemporary Aboriginal Voices course and professional development for staff.
"This is a great opportunity for us to come up with some appropriate symbols and mementos in the school that are indicative of Tecumseh," explains Costello. "We will be reaching out to descendants of Tecumseh and asking them if there are some mementos that they would like to bring or donate to the school."
He says if it is appropriate, LKDSB would like to hold a ceremony to honour the legacy of Tecumseh.
Costello says given what he knows now, he feels this is the right step moving forward for the school and its students.