Teachers’ union changes its name

  • Mar. 6, 2009 5:00 a.m.

Island teachers voted unanimously at their annual general meeting last week (March 3) to change the name of their organization to the “Haida Gwaii Teachers’ Association”. The group was formerly known as the Queen Charlotte District Teachers’ Association. The change was greeted with excitement and even a few tears by the Haida elders who work at Tahayghen elementary, said Maureen LaGroix, the aboriginal education representative on the teachers’ association executive. “We all said, it’s about time,” Ms LaGroix said. “Everyone seems to know our island now as Haida Gwaii instead of Queen Charlotte Islands.” Ms LaGroix said she can remember being taught, as an elementary school student, that the name of this place was the Queen Charlotte Islands and wondering how that had come about. She wanted to know who had decided to change the name and why the Haida name was not used, but teachers of the day did not have clear answers. “Why did we have these people calling the island something that doesn’t belong to us?” she said. The growing popularity of the name Haida Gwaii feels good, she said, especially for the elders. Mary Swanson, 85, and Claude Jones, 89, Haida speakers who work with the children at Tahayghen, were especially thrilled when they learned about the teachers’ decision, Ms LaGroix said. Using Haida Gwaii recognizes the fact that the Haida people are the original inhabitants of this place and also helps keep the language alive, Ms LaGroix said. Translated literally into English, the name means “Haida Island”, she said. Many students and staff are looking forward to more change in the future, with the school district now considering switching its name to simply “Haida Gwaii” from “Haida Gwaii/Queen Charlotte”. That change may be complete within the next several months. Ms LaGroix said she would like to see more Haida teachers working in this district, and she believes the name changes are important signals which might attract some to come back. There are about 15 certified teachers in BC who are Haida citizens, she said, but only three or four work here.