Hello. My name is Grant LaFleche, a graduate of Bishop Grandin high school, class of 1991. I am writing to you today to express my profound dismay over learning the history of the man my high school is named after and urge you to immediately commit to changing the name of the school due to the late Bishop’s role as an architect of Canada’s residential school system.
There are two caveats I would like to note at the top. First, my letter is not a condemnation of the education I received at the school – although I am dismayed that the history of Mr. Grandin was never taught. I remain grateful to the teachers who instructed me and the lifelong friends I made there. The high school was the first stepping stone that lead me to university and to my current job as an investigative journalist.
Also, in writing this letter, I do not presume to speak for the Indigenous community, Indigenous graduates or students of the school, particularly of the Tsuut’ina Nation. They can speak for themselves. I am writing as an alumni with a deep concern about this issue. Given the recent discovery of a mass grave of residential school students in Kamloops and learning of Mr. Grandin’s direct role in the establishment of such schools, I felt it was important to speak out.
There is no avoiding the fact that Mr. Grandin played a significant role in the establishment and promotion of residential schools. His clearly stated purpose for such institutions was to erase from history the culture, language and identity of Indigenous people. This goal is rooted in a deep-seated racism and dangerously paternalistic attitudes held by many Canadian leaders in the 19th and 20th centuries. In short, Mr. Grandin believed Indigenous people were less than human – a situation that could not be rectified until they had been stripped of all they were and, in effect, rewritten to be Christians.
Lest you attempt to fall back on the idea that “those were the attitudes of the time,” keep in mind the damage residential schools did is damage that echoes to this day in families and communities across the country. The legacy of these schools in Indigenous Nations is still felt today.
I have interviewed many families whose loved ones were victimized by residential schools, and in most cases what was lost can never be recovered. In one such interview, I was told an elder who through her adult life, rarely spoke in her own language to her grandchildren because of the severe abuse she suffered at the hands of residential school teachers for daring to speak in the tongue of her people.
The discovery of the bodies in British Columbia should make it clear that the matter is not only one of the past.
Leaning on the attitudes of the past is not an excuse to stay silent or refuse to act. We do not name important institutions after criminals, and were he alive today, Mr. Grandin would certainly be branded as such. The ecclesiastical achievements of Mr. Grandin, his rank and his position in the church are not relevant. His actions caused real, irreparable harm to many people and families for the “crime” of being part of the original inhabitants of this country with their own languages, cultures and traditions that did not conform to the will of the magisterium.
In short, Mr. Grandin is not worthy of the honour of having a place of education for young Calgarians being named after him. You have a moral duty as educators of the young to act.
Residential schools are a stain on the country’s heart, and a wound to its moral foundations. Despite commissions, despite the continuing and irrefutable mountains of evidence, Canada’s response to the matter has been a long, unending and unmitigated train wreck of failures.
The Catholic Church itself, as an institution, has also failed to address its role in the creation and operation of these criminal institutions that did nothing but abuse innocent children. The church’s history of covering up abuses by its clerics only compounds the problem and is a reflex that must come to an end.
You have an opportunity before you to play a role in the healing of this national wound and to provide a degree of justice to those who were wronged, by stripping Mr. Grandin of the honour of having a school named for him. Changing the name of the school may seem a small act, but small acts accumulate and set the stage for bigger more important change.
Finally, while it will take time to find a new name for the school (I would recommend finding an appropriate Indigenous person to rename the school for), you need not wait for committees and recommendations to commit to stripping Mr. Grandin’s name from the institution.
As I said above, you have a moral duty. Do not become part of the history of failures in this country regarding residential schools. Play your part. Act now.
Thank you for reading;
Class of 1991