No matter how it got there, the issue of renaming a pair of Alberni Valley institutions from Neill to something else is on the table, and it must be considered before things get further out of hand.
AW Neill was a political pioneer in the Valley at the turn of the 20th century, and both a road and a school were named for him many decades ago.
Talking about renaming AW Neill Elementary School or Neill Street isn’t about changing history. Renaming a street or school doesn’t have to mean stripping away of all achievements, or the original intent for why a person was honoured in such a way. AW Neill was known for many things: some positive, and some that, in this era, are considered racist.
As Hupacasath First Nation Councillor Jolleen Dick said in a post on social media, ‘changing/ replacing historic images isn’t necessarily hiding (them)…As societies change and relationships build, values will change. And our places and people need to reflect that change.’
We should approach the possible renaming of Neill Street or AW Neill School as a positive move forward; recognizing through education the message and recommendations that have come from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Facing Canada’s past, especially when it comes to how indigenous people have been treated through colonialism, is uncomfortable, but we must learn from it. The residential school issue has affected multiple generations, and its effects have been far-reaching. Moving forward is not an easy step.
Let’s have an open-minded, purposeful conversation about changing the name of AW Neill school or Neill Street.
It’s a small gesture that will go a long way toward reconciliation. And that is so much more important than getting hung up on a name.