A few members of the public stepped forward during the first city council meeting of 2017 to express dissatisfaction with an item that hadn’t formally made it to the agenda.
Councillor Chris Alemany brought forward a notice of motion for consideration during the Jan. 9 meeting that city council work with the Hupacasath and Tseshaht First Nation councils, the community and any affected property owners to rename of Neill Street in the spirit of reconciliation. He has dropped the request to change the name of Indian Avenue after consulting with the Hupacasath First Nation.
Cameron Stefiuk, a resident of Port Alberni for his whole life, drew comparisons between A.W. Neill and John A. Macdonald, who also supported the residential school system and stood against Chinese immigration. Stefiuk said what’s important is how we choose to remember somebody.
“How much longer are we as a society going to use the word ‘reconcile’ to justify spending taxpayer dollars on the past?” he asked. “I have nothing to do with what A.W. Neill did, and neither do my parents before me. If we’re going to keep changing the past, we’re never going to move forward.”
Neil Anderson finished the meeting by bringing the discussion back to the Neill Street proposal. “If we were going to withdraw names for everyone that discriminated, that violated people’s human’s rights, women’s rights issues, it goes on and on, there’s a hell of a lot of names that are going to be changed,” he said. “And that includes people today.”
“We should be all ashamed of what we did in the past, and we are all partly responsible, not any one person. So I’m not in favour of making changes, although I do understand the reasoning behind it. But you do have to look at the difference between how we thought back in those years and how we think today.”
Despite receiving some backlash, Alemany’s motion has now received support from the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, the Greater Vancouver Japanese Canadian Citizens’ Association and the National Association of Japanese Canadians.
City council will hold a discussion on this motion on Jan. 23. Alemany has posted a document online at chrisalemany.ca with further information about this motion, including his justification for the name change, information on A.W. Neill with references, suggestions on alternative commemorations, and costs and implications for residents and non-residents.
The issue of renaming AW Neill Elementary School, which would be under the purview of the Alberni Valley School District (70) and not the City of Port Alberni, was not on the agenda for the SD70 board meeting Tuesday night.
Read on the proposed name change here: