Yesterday I attended the National Capital Commission’s (NCC) Annual Public Meeting, with my Acknowledge the Truth Walk co-volunteer Élaine, to deliver to the NCC Board Members the 352 postcards that we had collected from people showing their support for renaming the Sir John A. Macdonald (SJAM) Parkway.
We were not on the agenda, and our reason for being there was not related to any of the themes on the agenda, so we had to wait to the end to see if there was time for us to speak. As it played out, the meeting went overtime and we were all told that there would not be time for additional questions/comments, but that the Board Members would stick around and we could talk with them individually. Élaine and I looked at each other and sort of resigned ourselves to this at first. But then I leaned over to her and said that I think what we have to say should be done in front of the full group, it should be on record. And then we noticed that two other men in the room raised their hand and added additional questions even after we were all told that there was not enough time. And then Élaine just raised her hand and said we have something to add too. And they gave me the mic. So we went for it.
I explained that we were volunteers with the Walk that was held on Sept 30, led by Elder Albert Dumont. I thanked them for agreeing, 4 days after the Walk, to change the name of the Parkway (as had been reported in an update to this CBC article). At this point in time, Tobi Nussbaum, CEO of the NCC, gave a look that indicated that this might not be entirely correct. Which I acknowledged and said I would keep going, but we would need to address that after!
I told the Board that we wanted to impress upon them how beautiful this Walk was. I said that the media reported that it was a protest, but it was not a protest. As Elder Dumont said, the Walk was a Ceremony. Every step was a prayer. It was done in the hope of healing and there was so much joy and beauty. I mentioned that everyone who attended the Walk commented on how connected they felt to one another, how much love they felt.
I said that the goal of the Walk, from Elder Dumont, was to raise the awareness of SJAM’s involvement in the creation of residential schools and the hurt that this still causes for Indigenous peoples today – that this is not a thing that is in the past, it is still very current today.
I said that we wanted the Board Members to know this as they were meeting to discuss the potential name change.
Then I told them that we had prepared postcards for the Walk for participants to sign, to show their support for changing the name of the Parkway, if they felt so inspired. I said that we had 352 postcards signed – at the event and also by students at two awesome classes I got to go into – the grade 6 class at Churchill Alternative School and my kids at Blue Whale Children’s Centre. I said that we had divided these postcards into 17 packages, one for each of the Board Members that we would like to present to them now. They accepted this and Élaine delivered the envelopes.
I told them that our hope was that they would read through all these postcards and hold the words in their hearts as they were making their decision about changing the name – taking into their hearts the words that were full of love, hope and courage and the words that were more angry – because it is important that we also sit with the anger, that is part of our job if we are doing Reconciliation work.
Lastly, we reinforced that our organizing committee was here to assist them, support them as they went through this renaming process.
Tobi thanked us for bringing the postcards. He then went on to explain why he gave me the look he did when I first started speaking. He said that they had technically not agreed to rename the Parkway yet. What they have done is write a new naming policy, and as part of this policy, there are opportunities for the public or NCC staff to suggest naming or renaming NCC assets. Because they had already had requests about the SJAM Parkway, this will be the first renaming decision that has been taken under this new policy. They have established an Advisory Committee on Renaming that consists of NCC staff, members of the Algonquin community, and a local historian and this is on their agenda. This committee will go to the Board in January with a recommendation on how to move forward with the SJAM Parkway name.
You can watch this whole interaction here.
This was definitely the most activist thing I have ever done and I was super nervous about it, but in the end it turned out quite beautifully. I think we were super successful in conveying our message that there are so many of us who support the renaming of the SJAM Parkway and that we want to do this in the right way, in a good way, following the lead of Elder Dumont, and other members of the Algonquin community. We were able to demonstrate to the NCC Board that there is actually a lot of momentum behind this and that we are going to keep showing up and stepping up to make sure that this name is changed.