Women's call to change Nunatsiavut school names with church ties has people talking

The appeal from two Inuit women from to change the names of schools in Inuit communities has sparked a debate.

Some residents disagreed

Caitlyn Baikie and Jessica Winters want the names of the schools in their home communities changed to better reflect their students. (Submitted)

A call from two Inuit women to change the names of Nunatsiavut schools named for religious missionaries has sparked a broader conversation about the controversial legacy of the church in public institutions.

Caitlyn Baikie and Jessica Winters, alumni of schools on the north coast of Labrador, are taking issue with the names of the four of the five schools in Nunatsiavut communities. Jens Haven Memorial in Nain, J.C. Erhardt Memorial in Makkovik and Amos Comenius Memorial in Hopedale all bear names of Moravian missionaries, while B.L. Morrison in Postville is named after a Pentecostal pastor.

"It just seems bizarre that we, in an Inuit community, look to our school and we're honouring figures who have a huge role in colonization, which is very complicated," Baikie said. 

An edition of CBC Radio's CrossTalk, though, shows that people are listening. 

"There's an Anglican leader out here that is hearing what you say," John Watton, bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Central Newfoundland, told Baike while speaking on CrossTalk last week.

"The idea of forcing Christ or religion on anyone of any culture is just — it's terrible — it just has to stop."

To me, changing the name now wouldn't be fair or wouldn't be right at all.- Gordon Obed

Baikie said they have yet to receive a response to the letter they wrote to the Nunatsiavut government asking for the issue of the school names to be brought to the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District.

She said she appreciated Watton's sentiments. 

"For us to have these conversations together is the only way forward," she said.

'That's in the past'

While many weighing in online said they agreed with changing the names, some, including those within the community, do not like the idea.

"That's in the past. What's been done has been done," said Gordon Obed, a former lay minister with the Moravian Church in Nain.

J.C. Erhardt Memorial School in Makkovik is named after a Moravian missionary who disappeared in Labrador in 1752. (J.C. Erhardt Memorial School/Facebook)

Obed said he grew up with a big connection to the Moravian church and his family has a long history of involvement with it.

He believes people of his generation would generally agree with him that the names on the schools should stay.

"This name that's been there for years is what it should be," Obed said.

"The younger people pretty much think otherwise. To me, changing the name now wouldn't be fair or wouldn't be right at all."

The Moravians established the first permanent settlement at Nain in 1771. (John Gaudi/CBC)

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador 

With files from Labrador Morning and Crosstalk