George Jay Elementary's name is expected to be changed in the next school year. (Black Press Media file photo)

George Jay school in Victoria to get a new Lekwungen name

The Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations will assist with the name change

George Jay Elementary will be getting a Lekwungen name.

The school’s name is expected to be changed in the next school year after consultations with the public and the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations.

“The Songhees and Esquimalt Nations look forward to participating in the renaming of George Jay Elementary,” said Songhees Nation coun. Karen Dick-Tunkara. “By joining this project and sharing a piece of Lekwungen culture, the children, students and residents of Victoria can experience a part of our traditional ways. The vulnerability of this work requires trust and time on behalf of both Nations. By taking the time to rename an institution, we can begin a healing process for our children and families, who must deal with many barriers in a colonial education system on a day-to-day basis.”

Members of the public had been advocating for the change for years after learning of its namesake’s history.

George Jay, a former school board director, named the school after himself in 1910 and imposed strict policies against students of Chinese heritage. Author and historian Timothy J. Stanley’s book Contesting White Supremacy- school segregation, anti-racism and the making of Chinese-Canadians revealed that George Jay was instrumental in instilling racial segregation of Chinese-Canadians at the school.

“[George Jay] suggested that the board return to its 1907 policy that ‘no Chinese be admitted to the schools unless they know English sufficient to make them amenable to ordinary classroom discipline’,” said Stanley in the book. “Jay had long made his career by advocating segregation and had in fact helped develop the 1907 policy.”

The segregation was applied to all students of Chinese heritage. Stanley’s book was published through the University of British Columbia in 2011.

Greater Victoria School District board members voted to change the name on Jan. 27, 2020.

“We are grateful to work in partnership with the Songhees and Esquimalt Nations to develop a process that will support a new name for George Jay Elementary School that is reflective of the traditional territories we reside on,” said Greater Victoria School Board chair Nicole Duncan. “We are committed to honouring local Indigenous language, culture and history as we continue the important work of building culturally responsive and welcoming spaces for all students. A new Lekwungen name will open the door to enriching conversations and learning about Indigenous language, culture and history.”

The First Nations have chosen representatives to assist the school district to form the processes around renaming the school.

“Language is the foundation of our culture,” said Esquimalt First Nation Chief Robert Thomas. “Our children and the children of others who learn and hear our language develop a strong identity and connection to our way of life. The renaming of George Jay Elementary is an important step to realizing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action to preserve and revitalize our language. During the era of residential schools, children were forbidden to speak their home language and if they did, they were subjected to punishment. The renaming of George Jay Elementary in Lekwungen is our way to honour those children whose voices were silenced and is the first step toward revitalizing our culture, our history and our Sacred Trust.”

READ MORE: Greater Victoria School District will rename George Jay Elementary


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