Rename Cecil Rhodes School in Winnipeg, Manitoba

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This is a petition to request that the board and trustees of the Winnipeg School Division move to rename Cecil Rhodes School, located at 1570 Elgin Ave. We will lay out the reasons why this name shouldn’t represent an educational community, why these actions should be taken, and an acknowledgement that this is only a small part of the work that needs to be done to decolonize education in this city and province. 

There have been several movements to have the name of Cecil Rhodes removed from public buildings; during the 80s at the height of Anti-Apartheid activism and more recently in 2015 when institutions like the University of Cape Town removed their statue of Rhodes. Quite possibly there have been other movements that the writers of this petition are unaware of.

Cecil Rhodes is often best known for his establishment of the Rhodes scholarship, but as the proudly white supremicist founder of Rhodesia in Africa, he oversaw the exploitation, disenfranchisement, and death of thousands (if not many many more) of Indigenous Africans. His ideas served as one of the foundations for Apartheid in South Africa (where he was an MP from 1890-1896). His scholarship barred women until 1977 and excluded Black South Africans until the fall of the Apartheid system. (source: https://thetyee.ca/News/2019/06/06/Apartheid-Father-Place-School/ 

History is not a good enough reason to keep his name on a place that is supposed to be dedicated to decolonizing education and teaching students to be inclusive and empathetic. A simple plaque that explains why the name was changed will serve to inform future generations of learners at this school. History is often a tool used by those in power to oppress those without power, as we’ve so recently learned from those who bravely came forward to speak their truths to power about Residential schools in Canada, going against the grain of the official historical narrative. Having a school named for you is an honour, and we can't believe that the WSD intends to honour a man like Cecil Rhodes when the facts about him are clear. In order to keep their value, traditions must shift and adapt to meet the needs of the group they exist in, and we see no reason why this name is a tradition worth preserving. 

Educators and divisions in this province have started the process of considering what Reconciliation really means for our education system, and many have started doing the work-- often led by Indigenous educators, elders and activists. Renaming a school is a largely symbolic act, but it is really the least that can be done and it should have happened long ago. The time is long past due to do this. 

We acknowledge that there are many more schools in Winnipeg and Manitoba that are named for people like Rhodes who are no longer worthy of our respect and who no longer reflect the values of the educational system or the community of learners in this province. This petition is a starting point, and hopefully a chance for all school divisions in Manitoba to do an audit of school names, and to host consultation with their communities about renaming. 

This is an opportunity for the WSD to show leadership and challenge those who claim that change is too hard, or use tradition and history as weapons to thwart decolonization and anti-racist work. The students of this school, current and future, deserve to have this example to look up to. 

This petition was started by an educator based in Winnipeg and a parent in the catchment of this school. We hope that others will join us in asking the Winnipeg School Division to engage with this simple but important piece in the work of decolonizing education and our community.