“A new beginning to show our great pride and our new attitudes.”
That’s how teacher Tina Giguere described the renaming of the former John Field Elementary School to its new title, Majagaleehl Gali Aks, which means “flowers of the rivers” in the Gitxsan language.
Giguere was speaking at a ceremony and balloon release held last Thursday to launch the new name.
The school, whose student contingent is 75 to 80 per cent Gitxsan First Nation, was originally named after Anglican Minister John Field, who lived in the Hazelton area in the late 1800s.
Last week’s event was the culmination of two weeks work by the students, who wrote stories and made art inspired by the new name.
Before the balloons were released, teachers and students spoke about the meaning of the school’s new name and the motivation for changing it.
Quoting Adella Pohle from her 1974 book Pioneering In Two Worlds, Giguere described how the school’s former namesake ran a church where Aboriginal people were segregated in the seating arrangement.
She said the new name corrected an injustice.
“Today, you have come to witness and acknowledge that a great wrong has been corrected,” Giguere said.
“As the balloons fly skyward it is an indication without bitterness that we are returning the name of John Field to him.”
Grade 7 student Autumn McRae told the school she was honoured to be a part of such an historical event.
“I have attended John Field Elementary since kindergarten and I love our school but now that we are all the majagalee along the rivers, I love it more,” she said.
“Majagaleehl Gali Aks School is an education centre that went beyond filling our minds to touching our hearts by correcting a wrong.”
Gwen Simms read the story of Majagalee Gali Aks, which tells the tale of a mother whose village bloomed when she realized how precious the children were.
The story was written especially for the occasion by Gitxsan woman Dr. M. Jane Smith, who said she was inspired by other historical legends.
“The kids really love the story, they really feel it’s theirs,” Dr. Smith said.
Students shouted “farewell” as they released a colourful array of balloons on which they had written the initials “J.F.”
The ceremony was originally scheduled to take place on Wednesday, however it was postponed to Thursday because school buses were cancelled due to dangerous road conditions.
Some students still weren’t able to make it to school on Thursday, however the event had to be held before the weekend because hundreds of balloons had been ordered for the ceremony.