The former John Field Elementary School, which is situated on reserve land and has a student contingent which is 75 to 80 per cent Gitxsan First Nation, has been renamed in the Gitxsan language in a move to enhance its cultural relevance.
Majagaleehl Gali Aks, which means “flowers of the rivers,” was chosen as the school’s new name through a consultation process involving teachers, students, parents and Gitxsan chiefs.
Originally named after the Anglican Minister John Field, who lived in the area in the late 1890s, the school was built in the 1960s.
The suggestion to change the name came from the Hazelton Gitwanga Learner Success committee, a sub-committee of the Coast Mountains District school board, which was formed to explore how schools could be made more relevant to local students.
The name change was approved by the school board, and principal Mark Newbery started a consultation process with school staff.
Because the school’s students learn in English, French and Gitxsan languages, suggestions were made to include words from each of the three languages.
It was also suggested the school could be named after a different prominent person from the community’s more recent history, however this idea was rejected.
Newbery said it was finally decided the title should be in the Gitxsan language to recognize that the school is on Gitxsan territory and that most of its students are members of the Gitxsan First Nation.
“With that we started eliminating and we came up with a list of 10 and then we invited chiefs in and presented them with the list that we had come up with,” he said.
“We had a lot of feedback from the chiefs and a lot of discussion around the fact that the name should be easy to pronounce and it shouldn’t be something that would be intimidating for people to say.”
The suggestions were narrowed down to three and presented to school staff, who identified Majagaleehl Gali Aks as their new name of choice.
“It means flowers of the rivers, the rivers of course being the Kispiox, the Skeena and the Bulkley, and flowers being symbolic of our students,” said Newbery.
“In (the Gitxsan language) the name for children is flowers.”
The proposed new title was presented to parents at a public meeting, where Newbery said the overall response was positive.
“For the most part it’s been well-received, particularly among the young people in our community and really that is who it is for,” he said.
“The name change really was for the kids in an attempt to have the school reflect the local culture and try to make it more relevant for the kids coming to our school.”
The new title will be unveiled formally with a ceremony at the school and a celebration at Gitanmaax Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 19.