By Kelly Anne Smith
WEST NIPISSING – A Northern Secondary School crest used for years on jackets and sports jerseys, is being phased out and former students, including the artist, are not keen to see it go.
The artist of the crest was only 14 years old, a new high school student in a new school, when she drew the “Brave”.
Monique Laflèche Thornton is now saddened that Northern Secondary School is moving to stop using her Braves emblem creation.
“I do not understand why this is happening or know the reason behind the removal of the crest. I am not a political individual and therefore I do not understand why one would be offended by this powerful and beautiful emblem. The Brave represented power, beauty and courage! It was and still is a connection with humans, my home town, friends from my past and present and our own family.”
Monique Laflèche Thornton recalls being encouraged by her family and friends to enter the contest. “I loved art. I was very shy ant the time and looking at the old newspaper pic says it all. I did not expect to win. The drawing was inspired by the term ‘The Braves.’ I was proud and humble at the same time when they chose my drawing to become the emblem for our school.”
Laflèche Thorton recreated the original drawing on a large canvas that hangs in the gymnasium. The sister of Laflèche Thorton, Frances Cockburn, has assurance from the school that the artwork will remain hanging in the gym. The sisters are Métis with family from Golden Lake.
‘The Braves’ artist says at least her memories of the years of her being a brave cannot be removed. “I ask now what does the name ‘The Braves’ represent?”
Former student Charley Hebert received a call from his niece about the school’s decision to do away with the emblem. He had heard that the Near North District School Board had been discussing the use of the Braves head and Chippewa Secondary teams called Chippewa Raiders as well.
Principal Laurent Paquette informed Hebert that the decision to remove the Braves emblem from any school correspondence and representation was his own. “As it was explained to me, there are students within Northern that do have a bit of difficulty with trying to explain why they are wearing an, this is how he put it, ‘An Indian Head’, on their jackets and jerseys. Some of those students have expressed concern with him.”
The discussion between Hebert and Principal Paquette included the history of Northern Secondary School. Hebert called it a tumultuous period in the early seventies. “This was shortly after President de Gaulle came over from France and did his “Vive le Québec libre!” speech. It stirred up quite a response from the francophone community. This resulted in Sturgeon Falls Secondary ceasing to exist, and Franco-Cite and Northern (Secondary School) being born.”
“When I entered school in ’72, we shared a portion of Franco-Cité School with a series of portables on the outside. It was an interesting time to see how things developed, going from being in the portables at Franco to having our own school built for us in ‘74.”
“I remember on our first day we were told all the grade nines were being divided among four houses established by the school. These houses were names of the four tribes that represented the tribes in Ontario at the time of first contact. To the north of us it is the Cree. Because we were on the ancestral homelands of Nipissing First Nation, there was the Ojibway. The remaining two tribes were the Huron and the Haudenosaunee or the Iroquois Confederacy. Each of the tribes had their own emblems.”
Hebert was placed into the Ojibway tribe. “There was a bit of family rivalry because my brother was three years ahead of me and from the Cree tribe. It was friendly during competitions for the tribe who had the most spirit and in the intramurals that took place.” Hebert’s family are members of Dokis First Nation.
The Chief of Dokis First Nation sees the Braves head as a symbol of success. Chief Gerry Duquette says he believes in demonstrating our people in a positive way. “Sometimes we view our people as Warriors but not in the sense of a ‘killer’ but someone that will not be afraid to stand up for the weak or the people that can’t speak for themselves.”
“I am from the Bear Clan and I take it very seriously to make sure people, not only Anishnabek people, but everyone feels a sense of safety. I hope that the former students or First Nations members don’t take this in a bad way either. Because if this was a positive form of expression I would ask: What is it that we are not good enough now to be recognized? Are you not comfortable wearing an Indigenous image or honouring First Nation people?”
Nipissing First Nation Chief McLeod has given his support for the removal of the crest from school use, saying it is no longer appropriate to have a race on a sports jersey. “Across Canada this is not the norm for how high schools or sports teams got their name. Even though this was a good example, overall we need to stop using Indigenous or other ethnic races as a symbol of sports.”
Chief McLeod commends the thought Principal Paquette put into deciding. “There was a weight on his shoulders when he took this step. It was a brave decision to do that. He made an effort to follow the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They did include us in the consultation period.”
As a student Charley Hebert made the sculpture titled Brave: Paddling a canoe for the East-West game. “As an alumnus of Northern Secondary School, I am still disappointed that this decision has been reached, especially since we are approaching our 50th anniversary.”