'It's time': Kitchener high school class pushing for name change of Indian Road
KITCHENER -- Students at Grand River Collegiate Institute in Kitchener are pushing to change the name of the street outside their school.
On Monday, the Grade 10 Canadian History and Civics class at the high school took to Twitter with an open letter calling for the city to change the name of Indian Road, describing the name as "offensive, disrespectful and a source of harm to others."
“How can you walk down the street and not feel bothered by that sign?” questioned Harmanpreet Singh, one of the students leading the charge to change the street name.
Singh says the idea evolved from a class discussion of Canadian and First Nations history. Classmate Molly Buitenhuis says the change is a simple way to be more inclusive.
“To be inclusive is for everyone to feel accepted and honoured,” said Buitenhuis. “With that road sign name, we’re leaving out an entire piece of the community and making them feel insulted so, why not change the name? It needs to be changed. It’s time.”
The student-led initiative is a happy sight to see for Amy Smoke, the manager of the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre at the University of Waterloo.
Smoke says the term is unacceptable in reference to an Indigenous person.
“Indian is just not a term that we use. It’s so incorrect. It’s become derogatory,” said Smoke. “We wouldn’t name streets ‘Caucasian Road.’ We just wouldn’t. It’s not honouring. It’s more than just a name, it’s a connotation.”
The #StreetNameChange initiative sparked by the class has caught the attention of Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic.
In a tweet from the mayor’s verified account, Vrbanovic thanked the students for brining the issue to his attention and noted the concern would be flagged with the newly hired Director of Equity, Anti-Racism and Indigenous Initiatives.
It was announced on Monday the first-ever position would be filled by Suzanne M. Charles Watson, who will now work on hiring a team of four people, including an Indigenous Advisor.
In an email to CTV News, Vrbanovic said the new advisor will play a crucial role in reviewing issues involving the Indigenous community.
“We need to make sure that what we do is being respectful of our local Indigenous community, and hence, we would want the new advisor to facilitate the engagement with our First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities in this or any issue like this,” said Vrbanovic.
Smoke applauds the students for taking up the cause.
“When we say it’s racist, when we say it’s offensive — that means it is,” said Smoke. “We don’t question it and we change the behaviour.”
After the school did away with a controversial mascot insensitive to First Nations, Singh and Buitenhuis are proud to be part of an effort to right what they see as wrong.
“As teenagers, we can do a lot more than we think we can do,” said Singh.
The students haven’t offered a replacement name for the street; the pair would rather see a collective effort to come up with an appropriate name.
“If we came together as a school and had some sort of initiative and came up with a name that means something, unlike this one, and one that just is respectable for generations to come,” said Buitenhuis. “That doesn’t need a change again.”
Watson is set to begin her tenure at the city next month. Vrbanovic adds the Mayor’s Task Force on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion may also be able to review the street name issue.
Vrbanovic adds the process to change a street name in Kitchener would include engagement with property owners, city planners, emergency services and Canada Post.