Yellowknife’s YK1 school district says its new school on the former JH Sissons site will be given a name “that aligns with our core values and our commitment to reconciliation.”
École JH Sissons was torn down in the summer of 2020 after serving the city for 45 years, most recently as a French immersion-only elementary school. A new school is expected to open at the same location, on 51A Avenue, in the fall of 2022.
John H Sissons, for whom the old school was named, was an Ontario-born teacher, politician, and lawyer who, in 1955, became the first judge appointed to what is now the Supreme Court of the Northwest Territories.
YK1 still holds Sissons’ contribution to the NWT in high regard. On the school’s website, the district states several of Sissons’ decisions “relating to hunting rights and to native marriage and adoption practices became legal landmarks.”
The description of Sissons adds: “His views were not always popular with the bureaucracy, but he became a legend to the native people and was called Ekoktoegee, ‘the one who listens to things,’ by the Inuit.”
Sissons was also presiding when, in 1966, Everett George Klippert was sentenced indefinitely as a “dangerous sexual offender” for his homosexuality – making Sissons the last Canadian judge to send someone to jail for being gay.
The district appears ready for a fresh start with a new facility.
In a letter published by YK1, naming committee chair Graham Arts – the last principal to preside over the old school building – said a name for the replacement school would be announced early in 2022.
YK1’s board of trustees will ultimately select the name, but suggestions are being sought from “members of the entire community, regardless of their connection with the former school,” Arts wrote.
“Schools are an integral part of the fabric of our community. School names are symbols of what the community stands for and values. In turn, students begin to identify as a community under their school’s name,” the letter continues.
“We are engaging in a process that was thoughtfully designed to hear directly from the community and Indigenous governments on whose land the school is located. We want a name that aligns with our core values and our commitment to reconciliation.
“The involvement of our community members is essential. We are asking for you to provide your suggestions to the committee for a school name and the values you feel should be represented by it.”
If you have a suggestion, email YK1 or use an online survey that will remain open until October 1.
Julie Green, the NWT’s health minister and Yellowknife Centre MLA, said on Twitter: “This is an opportunity to find a name that reflects current values of students, staff, parents, and the community.”
Update: September 21, 2021 – 13:29 MT. This article was updated to include Sissons’ role in the case of Everett George Klippert in 1966.