Why these Labrador Inuit want new names for schools in Nunatsiavut

Caitlyn Baikie and Jessica Winters say schools named for missionaries do not represent their students or instil pride.

Schools named for missionaries don't represent their students, say Caitlyn Baikie and Jessica Winters

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

Johann Christian Erhardt had only been in Labrador a few months when he disappeared.

It was 1752 and, according to scholars, Erhardt was among the first Moravian missionaries to land in what is now Nunatsiavut. It didn't go well.

Not long after establishing a mission post, Erhardt and a small crew sailed north to trade with Inuit. They were never seen again.

Despite Erhardt's failing, other missionaries followed in his footsteps and eventually set up successful missions in Okak, Hebron, Nain and Hopedale.

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)

That's why 267 years later, the school in Makkovik still bears the name J.C. Erhardt. Schools in Nain and Hopedale are also named after Moravian missionaries Jens Haven and Amos Comenius.

"The legacy that Moravians have on Inuit today is a complicated one," said Caitlyn Baikie, a Jens Haven alumna who's calling for the school names to be changed.

She and J.C. Erhardt graduate Jessica Winters wrote a letter to the Nunatsiavut government asking for the three schools, as well as B.L. Morrison School in Postville — named after a Pentecostal pastor — to be renamed.

"I was baptized Moravian," Baikie explained, "so I know that some people still really respect the church."

To have a name on that school that's reflective of who you are, it's something that you can be very proud of.- Caitlyn Baikie

Baikie said her own grandmother was a devout Moravian who was deeply involved in the church — but she also suffered when the mission forced her family to relocate from Hebron to Nain in the 1950s.

Moreover, the Moravian Church played a key role in residential schooling, with schools in Nain and Makkovik.

"I think that people are becoming more aware of the legacies that the church has had on our people and what that actually looks like, with intergenerational trauma, culture loss, loss of identity, and how complicated that all is."

'Not worthy'

Winters and Baikie wrote in their letter about the importance of naming the schools in a way that reflects the students.

Erhardt, Comenius and Haven "are not worthy of title to our grade schools and do not instil a sense of pride for young Inuit today. Nor does B.L. Morrison of Postville," the pair wrote.

Schools in Nunatsiavut act as community hubs, often hosting community feasts, concerts and sporting events. Baikie said they're fixtures in students' lives.

The Moravians established the first permanent settlement at Nain in 1771. Baikie says the church's legacy is complicated. (John Gaudi/CBC)

"It will change how young Inuit today feel about themselves and in their communities," she said.

"To have a name on that school that's reflective of who you are, it's something that you can be very proud of."

Baikie said she has some ideas about what makes a good school name, but she wants any changes to be led by the community. So far, she and Winters have heard suggestions including the names of respected elders or Inuktitut words for animals native to Nunatsiavut.

Jens Haven Memorial School in Nain is named after a Moravian missionary who established the community. (CBC)

The schools are overseen by the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District, so Baikie hopes Nunatsiavut leaders will bring her case to the provincial government.

The two sent their letter before Christmas, and Baikie said Nunatsiavut's deputy minister of education thanked them for writing.

"He didn't outline what his next steps were," she said, "but I'll be sure to follow up if I don't hear back on that soon."

Read more from CBC Newfoundland & Labrador

With files from Labrador Morning