An easy, but meaningful, change that helps us all move forward
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Last week I read that the Girl Guides of Canada will be changing the name of Brownies — the branch for seven and eight year olds — because they’ve learned from racialized groups and former members that the name is harmful.
“As an organization driven by the experience of girls, Girl Guides of Canada must listen to girls’ voices,” reads a message on its website.
“We have heard from members and former members that the name Brownies has caused them harm as racialized (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) girls and women. Some do not want to be part of this branch because of the name. Some girls choose to skip this branch altogether or delay joining Girl Guides until after this branch. This branch name is a barrier to racialized girls and women feeling part of the Guiding sisterhood and we cannot use a word that causes any girl harm. Part of the Girl Guide Promise is to ‘take action for a better world.’ Taking action by updating this branch name is an important step in creating a space where every girl feels that she belongs in Girl Guides.”
I applaud this decision.
When I read the headline about the name change, I was curious. I instantly thought of my own experience as an Indigenous kid in Brownies. I was surprised, at first, to read that other racialized children were hurt by the name, because I wasn’t. However, my experience is my own and it doesn’t outweigh or lessen those of anyone else. Frankly, my experience doesn’t even factor into this, because I had the privilege of feeling included when others did not.
Lord Robert Baden-Powell, founder of the world Scouting movement, named the branch after helpful, magical elf-like figures in English and Scottish folklore.
The decision to change it has become a hot-button topic on social media, which is always the case when long-standing names and logos are challenged or changed.
I recall the uproar over the Aunt Jemima caricature being removed from syrup bottles and pancake mix packages a few years ago, even after parent company PepsiCo admitted the image perpetuated harmful stereotypes against Black people.
And the debate continues about whether statues and monuments of colonial architects have any place in our present-day society.
The calls for sports teams at all levels to change racist names and logos seem to get louder with each year of inaction from franchise owners who steadfastly refuse to move away from their offensive symbols.
Doing away with things that no longer reflect our society is precisely how we move forward, even in the face of significant pushback.
I was a Brownie and a Girl Guide. I have a lot of nice memories of weekly meetings where I’d skip around a cardboard mushroom, hand-in-hand with my fellow Pixies or Fairies (I can’t remember what my group was) in my little brown uniform at the opening of the meeting, before diving into whatever that week had in store for us. I remember going camping every year with a bunch of other girls and wandering door to door selling cookies.
I have a lot of nostalgia wrapped up in this organization. A lot of good memories, which is why I am in complete support of the name change. I hope this opens the door for more kids to create lasting memories and experience a place where they feel welcome and included.
“By making this change, we are working towards what we value most in Guiding — creating inclusive spaces where all girls can feel like they belong,” a statement in the Q-and-A section of the organization’s website says.
“The magic of the branch will continue under a different name that makes girls feel more welcome and will build the feeling of belonging.”
Columnist, Manager of Reader Bridge project
Shelley is a born and raised Winnipegger. She is a proud member of the Brokenhead Ojibway Nation.