‘Offensive’ Iroquois name to be removed from Ontario school

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Published March 11, 2024 at 4:34 pm

Iroquois school offensive Indigenous Aboriginal First Nations

A name many felt paid homage to Indigenous people is now deemed offensive and will be taken from an Ontario school.

Iroquois Ridge High School has been operating in the Oakville community of Iroquois Ridge since 1994, but the local school board, acting on an anonymous complaint, says “Iroquois” is considered derogatory and must be removed.

The Halton District School Board made the decision last week following the complaint and learning that the name originated as an offensive slang used by rival First Nations and then adopted by European settlers.

A committee that will include Indigenous community members has been struck and a new name for the school will be put forward, likely by the end of this year.

The school board says $250,000 will be set aside to carry out the name change, but the cost may not run that high.

A message was sent out to the school community immediately following the board’s decision, and the reaction was mixed.

Many wondered why it took so long for the issue to be addressed considering the name has been in use for 500 years.

“Why now?” said Marianne Szysznyk, who attended the school in the late 1990s. “When I was there, we learned of the proud history of the Iroquois people and why it was important to honour the name and the land where we now live. We were proud to uphold the tradition of the name and now we are being told it is all wrong. I hope they are not trying to reinvent history.”

Others were surprised one complaint could lead to such a swift response.

“Where was the public consultation? said Jane Little, who has had two children attend the school over the years. “It would have been nice if there was some input from the Indigenous community explaining the circumstances, but we’ve heard nothing like that, just one complaint. Hopefully, it’s not like Dundas Street in Toronto where they immediately tried to change the name without doing any research.”

Some on social media point out the name of the school has been an issue for several years and the move to change shouldn’t have caught anyone by surprise.

“If it’s wrong, then it’s wrong,” said John Colden. “Just because we have been using the name for a long time doesn’t mean it’s OK to keep using it. If it truly is an offensive term, then it has to go.”

The exact offence intended by the name is unclear. Research shows Iroquois can mean “snake” or “terrible man” depending on who is explaining.

What is certain is the name is not representative of the people it has been assigned to. Haudenesaunee is considered the correct term to call the people of this Indigenous nation, a name that has been used and passed down for generations.

The repercussions of the name change could be sweeping if other jurisdictions follow suit.

The school is located in the Iroquois Ridge neighbourhood and is next to Iroquois Ridge Recreation Centre and near Iroquois Shore Road, all of which fall under the control of the Town of Oakville.

But the name extends well beyond Oakville and is used extensively across Ontario and in Quebec, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Indiana. It can be found on streets, parks, restaurants, hotels, food products and is also used by sports teams.

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