Semiahmoo Secondary has changed its team name from the Totems to the Thunderbirds after discussions with members of Semiahmoo First Nation. (File photo)

Semiahmoo Secondary has changed its team name from the Totems to the Thunderbirds after discussions with members of Semiahmoo First Nation. (File photo)

Semiahmoo Secondary changes team name from Totems to Thunderbirds

Decision, made in conjunction with Semiahmoo First Nation, an “important step” for school

As part of ongoing reconciliation efforts with the Semiahmoo First Nation, the South Surrey high school that bears its name has officially changed its team name.

Semiahmoo Secondary will no longer use the Totems moniker for its teams, and instead has switched to Thunderbirds, after discussion with members of the Semiahmoo First Nation, including Chief Harley Chappell.

The switch was announced in a Surrey Schools news release Thursday, though the Thunderbirds name has been in use since the start of the school year.

According to the school, the change was “motivated by a desire to accurately and respectfully recognize the Semiahmoo First Nation.”

“Over the last few years, the school has worked with the Semiahmoo First Nation to rebuild their relationship and better represent their traditions and culture,” the release notes.

“In talking with various people and engaging with Chief Chappell, we saw an opportunity to strengthen our connection with Semiahmoo First Nation and honour the people we’re named after,” said Semiahmoo Secondary vice-principal Robert Dewinetz, adding that the new name has the endorsement of SFN council.

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Dewinetz added that in speaking with SFN Coun. Joanne Charles, it was noted that totems are not an appropriate name for a school that sits on Coast Salish lands, “so we started talking about what name would reflect the culture and the land, and that’s how we landed on Thunderbirds.”

Lyn Daniels, a director of instruction with the school district’s Aboriginal Learning department, added that “the Semiahmoo Totems is a misunderstanding of who the Semiahmoo people are and what could represent them.”

“The Semiahmoo and other Coast Salish First Nations didn’t create totem poles or house posts, they had welcome figures to welcome people to the territory,” Daniels said, adding that the Thunderbird is part of Coast Salish traditions.

“This has been a longstanding issue, that sports organizations take imagery from Indigenous cultures and use it disrespectfully in ways that are not aligned.

“It takes some courage to say, ‘We made a mistake, but now we want to do better, we want to be more respectful, and as part of our reconciliation, we’re changing the name.’ And that’s really important.”

According to Surrey Schools spokesperson Ritinder Matthew, a new school logo is currently being designed by the school “in partnership with the Semiahmoo First Nation.”

Matthew added that no other schools in Surrey are in the process of a name change.

Thursday’s release also noted that the name-change process was slowed by the pandemic, with Dewinetz adding that the school will continue to work with SFN in the future, to discuss how to make further progress towards reconciliation.

“We’re building a relationship that wasn’t there years ago. This is an important step that our school is taking.”

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