New school in Leduc has Cree name inspired by location, history and hope for students

Black Gold School Division announced its new school in Leduc will be called Ohpaho Secondary School. Ohpaho is a Cree word which means to take flight.

Ohpaho Secondary School expected to open in 2024

An artist rendering of Ohpaho Secondary School in Leduc, Alberta. The school is scheduled to open in 2024. (Black Gold School Division)

A new high school in Leduc will include the Cree word for taking flight in its name to symbolize students preparing to ascend to adulthood, while honouring First Nations in the region. 

More than 80 names were submitted for consideration to the Black Gold School Division's naming committee before Ohpaho Secondary School was chosen. 

Ohpaho came at the suggestion of Brian Lightning, language coordinator at the Samson Cree Nation Museum and Archive. He was contacted by one of the committee members. 

"Initially they wanted to know the Cree translation for Leduc," Lightning said. "As far as I know there is no Cree translation for Leduc."

As he thought about the history of the area and the way the space is used today, including the proximity to the airport, the term came to him. 

"I said, we have a term for whatever it is that takes flight … It would probably be really good for a school because of the metaphoric significance — it's called 'Ohpaho' or to take flight."

"There's also the metaphor that you're receiving these children … and by the time they are leaving your institution they are young adults ready to take flight."

Lighting thought that was the end of his involvement, but the Black Gold School Division reached out to him a few weeks ago with a Zoom invite. That's when he learned that his name suggestion had been selected. 

"It's going to be there longer than me … I was totally overwhelmed by that."

"It says our language has a place in society," Lightning continued. "It says that our language is important … that it has a purpose. Not only for our people but for the outside world. Our young people need to know that our language is important."

Devonna Klaassen, a trustee with the school division, said it was a tough decision since many names put forward had merit. 

Black Gold School Division board member, Devonna Klaassen. (CBC/Google)

But the significance of the word Ohpaho was clear to her. 

"Having a powerful word like on the side of the school creates those invisible threads," Klaassen said.

"It creates those connections to the history, to culture, to the community. It holds us together."

Initiatives that drive conversations about inclusion are important said Pamela McCoy Jones, executive director of the Supporting Indigenous Language Revitalization project at the University of Alberta. 

Pamela McCoy Jones is the executive director of the Supporting Indigenous Language Revitalization project at the University of Alberta. (CBC/Google)

"What happened to be able to advocate for that name for that school and the acceptance of that is, you know, through education. It's through building relationships," said McCoy Jones. 

"I'm very excited to see those initiatives being made."

She also acknowledged the work language keepers and language warriors within Indigenous communities continue to do to keep languages alive.

Ohpaho Secondary School will have space for more than 1,100 students. 

There will be an official groundbreaking in late May at the site located at 69th Street and 50th Avenue in Leduc.