Pickering, Ontario school to carry the name Biidassige in honour of water walker

John MacDonald’s name to be removed from Pickering school.


The Sir John A. MacDonald Public School in Pickering, Ont., is about to get a facelift.

That’s according to Erin Elmhurst, superintendent of Equitable Education for the Durham District School Board east of Toronto.

“We have a little bit of time to do some work here at the school to change signage,” she said. “To change the external appearance of the building, to do a new logo, a new mascot for the school and new furniture to give it a new life and a new feel as we embark on a new name and new learning experiences in the building as well.”

It’s a result of a renaming policy that looked for any school name that could potentially be harmful, perpetuate discrimination or employment with Indigenous people, she said.

The school was built in 1965 and named after Canada’s first prime minister and the man who initiated the Indian Residential School System.

After shortlisting a number of community submissions, the committee decided on Josephine Mandamin and through consultation with the family, “Biidassige” was chosen.

Josephine Mandamin was an Anishinaabe grandmother, who was known as the water walker.

She walked around all five Great lakes in an effort to raise awareness of the importance of protecting life’s greatest resource, water.

She died in February 2019.

Student Ayla Schroeder, 11, is half Cree. She said she’s proud to have been a part of the committee’s decision.

“It’s a good name,” she said. “I think it’s important because we need to realize what all the indigenous have gone through from the French and British colonization to the residential schools”.

Principal Paul Haines said he had never heard of or met Mandamin, but he agreed that she was a fascinating woman.

“Biidassige is worthy of the recognition,” he told APTN News. “We’re at an interesting point in Canadian history, where we would all do well to learn more and know more about indigenous history, Indigenous people, language and culture and how we’ve gotten to where we are as a country right now.”

Regina Mandamin said it’s overwhelming to see her late mother being honoured in such a way.

“Her name Biidassige ba as she was known by means the one who brings the light or the one who carries the light, so its a very powerful name and she brought that into how she related to people and really brought that name to life in just what amazing work she did,” she said.

The plans for the re-naming ceremony in September will be worked out with the Mandamin family.