Pickering school re-named in honour of Indigenous environmental and clean water advocate


Published January 18, 2022 at 12:46 pm

Biidassige (Josephine) Mandamin. Photo Mother Earth Water Walk

A world-renowned water advocate, a residential school survivor and the great-aunt of teenage ‘water warrior’ Autumn Peltier will grace the name of an elementary school in Pickering formerly named after John A. Macdonald.

The school, located at 777 Balaton Avenue, will now be known as Biidassige (Josephine) Mandamin Public School, in honour of the Anishinaabe elder who died February 22, 2019.

The Durham District School Board’s Board of Trustees set the wheels in motion for the name change at a board meeting last May, declaring that “one or more” of the re-naming criteria – Indigenous rights, human rights, anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-discrimination, and equitable and inclusive education – had been engaged in the naming of the school.

John A Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister, was infamously known for establishing the residential school system in Canada to assimilate First Nations children into the dominant Canadian culture by removing them from their families, depriving them of their ancestral languages and exposing many of them to physical and sexual abuse.

The Board of Trustees established a school naming committee that included students, parents and an Indigenous Education Advisory Circle member, as well as trustees and board staff.

The Board makes it clear in the report that Indigenous rights are “inherent and distinct” and potential new names for the school will not “infringe or otherwise offend” those inherent rights. The new name, the report noted, will align with those rights and include:

  • The name of a renowned individual of historical significance whose contribution to the local community, Canadian society or to the world is recognized and valued and would be seen by the community as representative of the values of the board; or
  • The name of a geographic landmark associated with the location of the school including a street name and the name of the community including any historical name for the community or area; or
  • The name of a significant Canadian event.

There were 126 names submitted, including duplicates, with 77 of the proposed names meeting the criteria.

The naming committee then narrowed that list down to four names:

  • Biidassige (Josephine)Mandamin Public School
  • Bay Ridges Public School
  • Balaton Avenue Public School
  • Justice Murray Sinclair Public School

After a second round of balloting and further discussion, Biidassige (Josephine) Mandamin Public School was selected.

Biidassige (Josephine) Mandamin was from Wiikwemkoong Unceded Territory, Manitoulin Island. She attended St. Joseph’s School for Girls in Spanish, Ontario, from 1948–1954 but was still able to maintain her Anishinaabe identity and followed her traditional teachings. Biidassige dedicated her life to speaking for the Great Lakes and was an influential teacher and advocate for the Earth’s water. She walked around the Great Lakes from 2003 to 2017 to bring awareness to the problems of water pollution and environmental degradation on the Great Lakes and on Indigenous reserves in Canada.

For her activism, Mandamin was awarded the Anishinabek Lifetime Achievement Award (2012) and the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross (2018). Her great-niece, Autumn Peltier, followed in Mandamin’s footsteps, becoming the next generation’s “water warrior.”


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