In a historic first for Black Gold School Division (BGSD), the Board of Trustees voted at their March 16 regular meeting to name the new Leduc high school after a traditional Cree language word for taking flight: Ohpaho (O-pah-hoh).
“After much discussion, the Board is proud and excited to announce the new high school has been named Ohpaho Secondary School,” said Board Chair Devonna Klaassen. “It is a nod to the history of this land, the prominent Indigenous culture of the region, and it honours the Cree language.”
“Giving Leduc’s newest high school an Indigenous name is an act of reconciliation and a recognition that the Black Gold School Division is located on Treaty 6 territory,” said Gary Hansen, Ward 3 Trustee and School Naming Committee member. “Using the Cree word for taking flight, I believe, captures the essence of public education, which is to prepare youth to use their educational experiences to soar and build brighter futures.”
“The Board recognizes the weight of setting a school name as it will be around for years to come,” said Barb Martinson, Ward 3 Trustee and School Naming Committee member. “There was merit to all names put forward in the shortlist, and we had to weigh them each carefully.”
Following direction from the Board of Trustees in November 2021, Administration set up a School Naming Committee to raise public awareness and to solicit naming suggestions from Leduc-area residents for the new high school through an online public engagement process. Members on the Committee were drawn from the Leduc area, and included two trustees, two school administrators, the Division’s Indigenous Lead Teacher, three grade 9-12 students, two members of area school councils, and two municipal officials.
A public engagement website, Let’s Connect! was developed and made live from January 10 – February 10 on the school division’s website, resulting in 89 naming suggestions for consideration. The Committee subsequently met to review the long list, and then again to create a shortlist of five names to recommend to the Board of Trustees.
“I want to acknowledge and thank the Leduc High School Naming Committee, who were faced with the colossal task of narrowing down final selections from 89 name suggestions, and we all are very appreciative of their time and efforts.” said BGSD Superintendent of Schools Bill Romanchuk. “The selected name embodies a state of mind and a concept of moving onwards and upwards, which I believe is very appropriate for high school students.”
“The Committee is grateful that the name Ohpaho was gifted to us for consideration by Brian Lightning, who is exceptionally well versed in local Indigenous history,” said BGSD Indigenous Lead Teacher Michelle Haveroen. “This name respects the long history of Indigenous place-naming practices, but adds a contemporary spin.”
“Truth be told, I was a bit shocked, but in a pleasant way,” said Brian Lightning, Language Coordinator at Samson Cree Nation Museum & Archives. “For me, this is an honour and an act of reconciliation. Sometimes it is easy to forget we are the First Peoples of these lands and this name, although Cree, could be in any First Nations language. It is a subtle reminder that we are still here, still on the land.”
As the winning nominator, Brian Lightning will receive a Black Gold prize pack, and will be invited to attend the planned groundbreaking ceremony for the new school on April 25, 2022.
Ohpaho Secondary School, a 1,121-student capacity grade 10-12 facility, is being built at the intersection of 69 Street and 50 Avenue in southwest Leduc. The new school will feature new and increased programming options for Leduc-area students, including an industrial/ commercial kitchen for a culinary arts program, an art kiln for the ceramics program, dedicated spaces for robotics, 3D printing and design/merchandising, video broadcasting and production, horticultural/agricultural studies, and an outdoor classroom.
Construction is expected to be completed in 2024. There are plans in place to expand the school and gymnasium to a future capacity of 1,600 students.