At Monday’s Committee of the Whole meeting a delegation of residents and their supporters approached Six Nations Elected Council, asking them to rescind a memorial designation on the Gaylord Powless Arena.
The reason the delegation said they are making the request was to have the original name restored to the arena so the work they did to build the arena in the first place was acknowledged.
Recognition is not an unreasonable request. But as observers to this really shameful and upsetting situation it’s unbelievably hard to watch.
The family of Gaylord Powless find themselves now cast unfairly into a position to defend him — something they never should have to experience. Representatives with the family say they were not approached prior to the request to rescind the memorial designation and that the concern was thrust into the public sphere without warning.
We’re also talking about men, women and children who now have the very painful experience of fighting a battle they don’t deserve on behalf of their brother, father and friend — who died after a lengthy battle with cancer and a long reputation of community service. Gaylord Powless was an advocate for Six Nations nationally and internationally, deserving of the legacy of his name.
Family members shared letters that have poured in supporting keeping the memorial name — one from another First Nation reserve in Canada saying they would gladly name their arena in Gaylord Powless’ honour if Six Nations does decide to rescind the memorial.
It is unfortunate that after 18 years, the men and women who were originally involved in the construction of the arena feel they deserve more. It is shocking to hear the language used in their claim. One woman even going so far as to shout out that the memorial designation should be removed from the Powless name by the Elected Council “because that is what you did to us”.
It is ironic that the claim by the original building committee, they are seeking acknowledgement for a work done in unity, is getting lost in the divisive rhetoric of why they want the former name restored. Some suggesting that the name change in 2001 was an oppressive and insulting wound inflicted upon the original building committee by the Six Nations Elected Council.
It was sad to see the members of the Powless family, crying and holding hands, reliving the trauma of watching a parent succumb to cancer while they are forced to stand up and defend themselves, respond publicly to false rumours and uphold Gaylord’s good name. They don’t deserve to be fighting that battle. Especially in this day and age, where removing one’s name from a building or statue from a place is associated with a disgraceful legacy.
The original building committee could have asked for a memorial museum to be established at the Sports Complex, or for a bigger, better sign. What about naming an Annual Sports and Memorial Day in honour of the contributions of community members to Six Nations athletics? Suppose a new award ceremony could be established to acknowledge the committee? But to advocate for the well deserved memorial honour to be rescinded 18 years after it was approved is creating a toxic situation, that is potentially traumatizing for the entire community.