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Port Alberni elementary school gets new First Nations name

As the Greater Victoria School District works to change the name of George Jay Elementary because of the racist history of the man it’s named for, a Port Alberni school is celebrating its own new First Nations moniker.
Tsuma-as Elementary School photo
Tsuma-as Elementary School in Port Alberni. Google Street View

As the Greater Victoria School District works to change the name of George Jay Elementary because of the racist history of the man it’s named for, a Port Alberni school is celebrating its own new First Nations moniker.

The Pacific Rim School District recently changed the name of A.W. Neill Elementary to Tsuma-as Elementary, a name that refers to the creeks running into the local valley.

Neill, who represented the area in the House of Commons from 1921 to 1945 and was a member of the B.C. legislature, attempted to deny Asian immigrants voting rights and supported anti-Chinese laws and residential schools.

He had a covenant placed on his home so it couldn’t be sold to Asian people, although the covenant was removed in 2020.

Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council president Judith Sayers, who attended A. W. Neill, said having the name changed “felt like a cloud being lifted up off the school.”

A rainbow even appeared for the occasion, she said.

“I think in the spirit of ­reconciliation, renaming buildings, places is really important to get rid of the old colonial history and anything that brings negativity to First Nations people.”

Port Alberni Mayor Sharie Minions, another former student of the school, said the community worked on the renaming for some time.

“We’re really proud that the school district took this on and went through quite a process, not just to remove the name that was hurtful to many in our ­community, but to really meaningfully find a way to rename it.”

Many people were part of the effort to make the change, Minions said.

“It’s exciting and it’s a really positive step forward.”

A new name for George Jay Elementary in Victoria could be chosen by next spring.

jbell@timescolonist.com