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Renaming the Bennett library

Published by Dipa Barua

Q: In light of SFUs proclaimed commitments to reconciliation and the library as a public space for community learning, it would be wonderful to see SFU put forward the action to rename the WAC Bennett Library.The opening statement on SFUs 2019/2020 Annual Report on Reconciliation states, "There is no endeavour more important to Canada’s well-being than the national process of reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. With this in mind, we at Simon Fraser University have committed ourselves to serve as an instrument for reconciliation" (p.3). In the same report, it also states, "It is this principle that SFU honours in our goal to create an Indigenous Curriculum Resource Centre (ICRC)...The physical ICRC collection will be located in a designated space in the W.A.C.
Bennett Library." (p.11-12).

While creating the ICRC is a step forward, there is more that SFU needs to do within this realm to address its commitments to reconciliation. The name of the library is problematic for numerous reasons.

For one, the library should be a place of inclusion and learning; however for many Indigenous peoples, the name of the space is associated with the WAC Bennett Dam, which is a renowned colonial project that overtly violated and infringed upon Indigenous rights, forcibly displaced Indigenous communities, destroyed ecosystem function and integrity, and is a blatant example of environmental injustice and racism. Renaming is one of many important steps in addressing commitments to reconciliation and redressing historical wrongs.

I present you all with an opportunity to step up to the plate now.

A: Thank you for this suggestion. I agree there is much work ahead for the library and the university to move forward with reconciliation. We are proud of the new Indigenous Curriculum Resource Centre and the other work the library is undertaking, but acknowledge there is more to do. The Library was named in recognition of WAC Bennett's efforts to establish SFU. But like many names in BC and at SFU, it also carries painful reminders of BC's colonial history, in this case including the WAC Bennett Dam, and the damage it caused to the environment, displacement of First Nations in the area, and destruction of their territories. Naming of public buildings at the university is governed by provincial legislation. In response to a past inquiry we have been informed the WAC Bennett name was given in perpetuity.  We will consider your suggestion as we proceed with our work on reconciliation and continue conversations with the province. 

Gwen Bird,
University Librarian and Dean of Libraries

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