Winnipeg school named after white supremacist to become Keewatin Prairie Community School

·3 min read
A new name has been chosen for Cecil Rhodes School. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC - image credit)
A new name has been chosen for Cecil Rhodes School. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC - image credit)

The Winnipeg School Division has approved a new name for a 114-year-old school that honoured a controversial man connected with apartheid and white supremacy.

Cecil Rhodes School will be renamed Keewatin Prairie Community School, the division announced on Wednesday.

The new name, which will take effect on Sept. 1, connects the school to its geographical location while also honouring the Cree and Ojibway languages, the division said.

Keewatin means "the land of the northwest wind" in Cree and Ojibway.

"We're very pleased to have a name that was chosen based on careful consideration and acknowledgement of the Truth and Reconciliation process," school board chair Betty Edel said in a news release.

"We took the time necessary to ensure that changing the name of Cecil Rhodes was a community decision, and that the appropriate stakeholders were consulted and included in the choice of the new name."

Community push

A petition to change the name of the nursery to Grade 9 school in the city's Weston area was launched in 2020, during a global wave of anti-racism rallies and a renewed push to remove colonial monuments.

It eventually gathered more than 1,700 signatures.

The division struck a naming committee and sought a new name that reflected the spirit of reconciliation.

It consulted with community members and current students at the school. Of the more than 100 survey responses it received, both "Keewatin" and "prairie" were popular suggestions.

"There were many submissions that met our criteria, but the one that was chosen stood out because of the rationale," Stormie Duchnycz, the school's principal, said in the news release.

The division said that students felt the word "prairie" was fitting for the institution's namesake because to them it represented growth and a connection to nature and Indigenous ways.

On its website, Cecil Rhodes School proclaims its name is a tribute to the "British-born South African statesman, financier, founder of the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford and one of the great empire builders of the late 19th century."

However, biographies written about Rhodes say he also advocated vigorous settler colonialism and touted views that white Europeans were "the first race in the world" and that "the more of the world we inhabit, the better it is for the human race."

A British businessman, imperialist and politician, Rhodes's policies paved the way for apartheid in South Africa.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Before the division chose to cut ties with the school's original namesake, the idea faced some pushback. A survey of school families and people in central Winnipeg wasn't clear cut, with only a slight majority favouring the name change. However, it went ahead, according to the minutes of a committee meeting.

It was Winnipeg School Division trustee Jennifer Chen who brought forward a motion in 2020 to explore renaming the school.

"I am so happy for the new name," she said in a text message on Wednesday. "Congratulations to the school community and the working committee for achieving this meaningful initiative."

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