A Nanaimo elementary school has a new name and a new approach to school spirit, with Indigenous culture considerations.
Coal Tyee Elementary School was officially re-named Syuẁén’ct Elementary School, today, Oct. 6, pronounced see-you-when-st and translating to ‘our traditions’ in Hul’qumi’num, language of Snuneymuxw First Nation. The school, formerly named after an Indigenous man Ki-et-sa-kun, or Coal Tyee (great coal chief), also changed its nickname from the Cougars to the Spirits.
The idea came about two years ago, when former vice-principal Kirstin Funke Robinson brought representatives from City of Nanaimo’s Reimagine Nanaimo project, said Diane Charles, school principal.
“They were talking about the history of this place and they were speaking about Ki-et-sa-kun and the kids were like, ‘Ki-et-sa-kun is a real person?’ … so we started digging and realizing the story that was on our wall is not Snuneymuxw’s story,” said Charles. “In the whole Syeyutsus (reconciliation) framework, we had to figure out what the actual story was and something needed to happen.”
Coal Tyee was originally thought to represent collaboration between colonial and Indigenous peoples and Nanaimo’s history of coal mining, a school district staff report from earlier this year noted. However, the person is seen by Snuneymuxw peoples as a tragic figure, as his interactions led to colonization of the area, and as such it did not align with district policy, the report said.
As part of the process, Joel Good, Snuneymuxw artist, carved an ornate wood box, which now sits at the front of the school.
“It was one large piece of yellow cedar, the actual box, and the top and the bottom are red cedar … he’s never made anything quite so large, so it was quite amazing,” said Charles.
Yutustana:t Mandy Jones, Snuneymuxw elder-in-residence at Ladysmith Secondary, was on hand and pleased with the change.
“It’s a beautiful place and I’m really happy that our language is coming alive through things like this,” said Jones.
Charles credits Joan Brown, Snuneymuxw CAO, and Scott Saywell, SD68 superintendent, with coming up with the Spirits nickname.
The idea was brought to the attention of trustees by Charles at a meeting last December and in July, the board approved the name change. The district underwent public consultation for the re-naming.
Nanaimo District Secondary School Community Field was re-named Q’unq’inuqwstuxw (ki-kin-ish-took) as part of an overlapping process. That name translates to ‘pass it back.’