The Nanaimo-Ladysmith School District is looking at changing the name of Coal Tyee Elementary School in the Northfield area. 

According to a report submitted this month by Superintendent Scott Saywell, the Education Committee heard a presentation by the school at the December meeting with respect to reconciliation. 

Saywell says when the school was opened, it was given the name Coal Tyee in good faith, to honour Snuneymuxw resident KI-ET-SAKUN, also known as Coal Tyee. 

According to the City of Nanaimo website the story is as follows:

“…In 1851, while Ki-et-sa-kun in having his gun repaired in Victoria; he mentions the coal in

Winthuysen Inlet. In 1852, James Douglas sent Joseph Mackay (the clerk for the Hudson Bay

Company) to Winthuysen Inlet to investigate the reports of coal deposits. He confirms the value

of the coal deposits, a year later the Company decides to close the mine at Fort Rupert (where

the coal deposits were found to be inferior) and transfer its mining operations to Winthuysen

Inlet. On September 10th the first shipment of coal leaves for Victoria. In honour of Ki-et-sakun’s discovery, he was given the name Coal Tyee, meaning Great Coal Chief.”

 

The report says it was believed that Coal Tyee represented a positive story of collaboration between the colonial and Indigenous peoples as well as representing Nanaimo’s heritage with respect to coal mining.

However, it is now understood that the Snuneymuxw people see Coal Tyee as a tragic figure, whose actions with the colonial peoples “led directly to purposeful colonization of the area and destructive resource extraction that has impacted the land. That interaction has also impacted the Snuneymuxw peoples in an extremely negative and ongoing way and led directly to the generational trauma that we are working with our Snuneymuxw relatives to heal.”

The report says while recognizing that colonization is not the fault of Coal Tyee, nor any other Indigenous person, his role is not one to be celebrated and is not consistent with Board policies. 

Given these facts, Saywell says the name is not in line with the Board’s Syeyutsus (“walking together”) Reconciliation Framework. 

Snuneymuxw First Nation CAO Joan Brown says the name change is an important step in reconciliation. “It really suggests that we take a deeper dive in terms of healing and a deeper understanding of the ancestral lands. So with every breath, every step, it’s really important that we all think about it as a larger system.” 

The District agreed to create an ad-hoc committee to start the process of re-naming the school.