DDSB Students advocate for street name change in Oshawa
Students in an Indigenous-focused Grade 11 English course at J. Clarke Richardson Collegiate in Ajax have gone beyond the classroom and made real-world change.
"We were all very pleased that we could create change," says Grade 12 student Amitav Narang.
The issue was that a street name in Oshawa entitled 'Squaw Valley Court' contained a racist and sexist term (Squaw) offensive to the Indigenous community. Jada Temple, the teacher of the Indigenous English course, discovered this when she was told about it by women in a Métis Drum Circle. "I took a picture and I brought it back to show the students," explains Temple. "I said to them, 'what do we think of this?'"
The students decided to act and each wrote a letter to Mayor John Henry of the City of Oshawa, expressing their beliefs and advocating for a name change. Once the issue was brought to the attention of the City, homeowners on the street participated in a questionnaire. It was decided that the street name would still follow the pattern of the neighbourhood, which contains names of ski resorts, but the name would be changed to Revelstoke Court.
Squaw Valley is a ski resort in the United States; Revelstoke is a ski resort in British Columbia. Temple notes that the new street name is also more fitting because the other street names in the area are related to Canadian ski resorts.
Making a difference
By the time the new street name was decided, the students had already finished school for the summer. Mayor Henry wanted to let the students know that their push for change payed off, so he wrote 27 letters – one for each student.
"We were very pleased when the Mayor responded and sent us all individual letters," says Narang. "With this English course, we actually accomplished something with our writing. We wrote letters to the Mayor and we created change."
Mayor Henry acknowledged the importance of speaking up, stating, "We are privileged to live in a democratic country which allows young people to have a voice and the ability to make change. I am proud that City Council supported and acted upon the students' request to help make this change."
Temple says that throughout the course, students were practicing reconciliation in the classroom, but says this opportunity allowed them to take what she calls "reconcili-action." She adds, "While academic learning is fantastic, learning is much more than that. You have to be able to use it, otherwise it's just knowledge."