University of Windsor renames student residence to shed ties to John A. Macdonald

·4 min read
The former Macdonald hall is one of three residence buildings on campus. All of them are named after Canadian Prime Ministers.  (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)
The former Macdonald hall is one of three residence buildings on campus. All of them are named after Canadian Prime Ministers. (Jacob Barker/CBC - image credit)

The University of Windsor will rename Macdonald Hall to Residence Hall West, a year after work began to look into concerns the student quarters bore the legacy of Canada's first prime minister, who supported Indian residential schools.

The school made the announcement Friday, over a year after its board of governors established a committee to review the propriety of the name in response to a petition launched by alumnus Hale Ferrer.

The committee — made up of students, faculty, staff, alumni, community members and the head of residence services — met throughout the fall and winter. They invited submissions and feedback from within and outside the university.

"As elsewhere in Canada, the university acknowledges John A. Macdonald's involvement and support of the residential school system, and its negative impact on ethnic and racialized people, particularly the Indigenous, Métis and Inuit communities," reads a statement from the university.

More than 150,000 First Nations, Métis and Inuit children were forced to attend church-run, government-funded schools between the 1870s and 1997.

B.C. former school situation spurred action

Over the past week, critics have called for the removal of Macdonald's name across Canada, in light of the news that the remains of about 215 children were detected at a former residential school in Kamloops, B.C.

On Monday evening, Charlottetown city council voted to remove a statue of Macdonald in the P.E.I. capital.

Dr. Andrea Sullivan-Clarke is an assistant professor of philosophy at the university, and is from the wind clan of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation of Oklahoma.

Sullivan-Clarke, who was on the committee to rename the building, encouraged it to include a Cree student to join the group as an additional Indigenous voice.

CBC
CBC

Sullivan-Clarke said it was important for the committee to take diverse perspectives into account as they worked together to rename the residence, which was also at risk of facing a decommission due to its age.

"I don't see how it could have gone any faster, given that we were being so careful as to making sure that all voices in the community were heard," said Sullivan-Clarke of the year-long process.

Bruce Tucker, a retired professor emeritus and member of the university's board of governors, also sat on the renaming committee.

He said the timing of the announcement is tied to typically slow internal processes, as well as logistical setbacks created by COVID-19.

"We were aware that it's a very important decision, not just for the university, but in a sense, how is the country going to come to terms with this past that we're not so proud of," said Tucker. "So, in typical university spirit, we took a long time to deliberate, to think about it to various ones of us, got tasks to go off and and either do some research in my case, or review the feedback."

Student questions timing of hall renaming

Stephanie Pangowish, a University of Windsor master's of law student who is half-Haudenosaunee and half-Anishnaabe, signed the 2020 petition to drop the residence's name.

CBC
CBC

She told CBC the timing of the decision feels performative, and the university missed a critical opportunity to improve its relationship with its Indigenous students.

"Last year, we were calling for this," said Pangowish, adding that no one would listen. "Now we have this mass grave that was found [in B.C.] and that has lit a fire nationally. But this is what makes me upset, because we have been talking about this for years, years upon years, years upon years."

Pangowish said the university could have reached out to the six reserves located 200 kilometres away and brought the communities together to discuss the process of renaming the residence.

She added that for at least three years, calls from Indigenous students for an improved Indigenous space have been ignored by the school.

"The Western world has its own priorities and its own methods and its own ways," said Pangowish.

"And I would like to be able to access a space that enriches, and creates, and promotes my culture, and my community and my people. And to know that as Indigenous students walking into a colonial institution which was not made for us, that I am valued in that space, I can cook traditional foods, that I can smudge and practise, and that their services are set up specifically for me as an Indigenous student, because my ways are so different, our values are different."

Macdonald Hall, once known colloquially as "Mac Hall," was one of three on University of Windsor's campus to have been named after former prime ministers.

Tucker said a committee has been formed to advise the university on the naming of buildings and classrooms.

A plaque for Residence Hall West will be unveiled at an unknown time.

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