By Alleah Boisvert
An Indigenous-led campaign started by Edmonton’s Oliver Community League (OCL) is gaining traction this summer after bodies of Indigenous children who were forced to attend residential schools are being uncovered in mass unmarked graves across Canada.
OCL has been advocating for awareness of the history of Oliver through the campaign called Uncover Oliver, with the final goal being a change to the name of the community.
The community will be one of the first in Canada to do something like this.
Carolyn Strangeland, OCL’s Communications Director, said that Uncover Oliver started after Black Lives Matter protests in 2017 sparked Edmontonians to look at their own history with racism and colonization.
“From the protests, a lot of people started talking to the Oliver Community and were like, hey, I don’t think we should be upholding this name, Oliver. So, it got all of us in the community and the community league to start researching, okay, who is Oliver?” said Strangeland.
The neighbourhood was named in 1937 after Frank Oliver, a colonizer from Ontario who was a member of Edmonton’s Legislative Assembly in the late 1800’s. Oliver was responsible for policies based on racism and ableism that harmed Indigenous land rights and black immigrants.
Back then, the community of Oliver advocated for these policies and the forcible removal of Indigenous people. Since June 2020, OCL has been meeting with the City of Edmonton and Indigenous Affairs Office to discuss and plan the name change.
“It’s never been done before, and we want to make sure that we do it in the right way because to me, if we just slap on a new name, then that’s just performative allyship,” said Strangeland.
“The big piece about this and why we decided to call it the Uncover Oliver campaign, is because we want that education and conversation piece to it. Nobody knows who Frank Oliver is or what he stood for, and there’s literally documentation all over the internet.”
Robyn Paches, the president of the OCL, is hoping that Uncover Oliver will be a benchmark for other communities across Canada.
“This is going to open a slippery slope, but our response to that is, why not? It’ll open up dialogue on names, and we think it’s an exciting time because this is a generational issue. It’s not going to go away. We need to reckon with our problematic past and how we deal with honorifics and preserve history, and we think it’ll impact communities across Canada,” said Paches.
Although there is no new name for Oliver yet, Strangeland and Paches believe the naming process needs to be done differently than it was in the past.
“I think we should start moving away from honouring one specific person, and that’s for a different philosophical reason. I think it’s harmful to put people on pedestals when you know there’s an entire group of people that got them there,” said Paches.
The Oliver Community League has been getting a lot of positive reactions to the campaign and is thankful for the community’s support and willingness to learn from Uncover Oliver. For more information, visit their website.