Joanne Okimawininew Dallaire
I started at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) in 1999 with a focus on Traditional teachings and, since then, have taken on a variety of roles within the university community.
Throughout my time here, the university has always been supportive and enthusiastic about the growth and evolution of programs, buildings, faculty and staff. Throughout it all, students have remained the central focus – they are the ones who keep our community vibrant and the work so interesting.
Toronto Metropolitan University reflects many of my aspirations for growth, adaptability and inclusion while creating a welcoming environment for the individual, so it’s important to me that this is felt in my role as Elder and Senior Advisor, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation as well.
I am now working at the leadership level to embed Indigenous ways of knowing and being into the fabric of the university’s culture and community. For example, I work closely with the university’s Senate and Truth and Reconciliation Committee to ensure Indigenous voices are being heard. I also work to promote and demonstrate the vital power of a right relationship with self, others and the world around us.
In the traditional way of the Cree, I believe in the art of taking people at face value without judgement. Everyone has a past; that is how we learn. We are all on a journey and what we like in others we carry. What we dislike in others, we also carry. Above all, discourse is the most potent and most unwanted teacher.
I know that we can continue to educate the real history of this land and the many injustices Indigenous people live with today. We do not own Mother earth; we all are her stewards.
My door is open for anyone who would like to talk. Please share your hopes and concerns with me, and let me know what you think is essential for me to address with my colleagues.
I humbly ask that I be a good vehicle for the work.
Ask me anything!
Have a question for Elder Joanne Dallaire? This is a safe space to submit Indigenous-related questions to Joanne without judgment – because when we are educated and informed, we can be better people, allies and community members.
All submissions are anonymous.
Culture and protocols
Tobacco is a spiritual gift. You should offer tobacco when you are going to visit an Elder or are going to ask them to share their knowledge and/or attend an event. It can be placed into a piece of cloth or tissue and tied up.
If the meeting or event will be online, you can take the tobacco and offer it to the ground with a prayer and mention the Elder you will be seeing and when.
There are traditional types of tobacco, however, I believe that any tobacco is okay with the spirits. (PDF file) Learn more about tobacco.
When inviting an Elder to an event, you should be specific about what role you would like the Elder to have, for example - if they are attending as a guest or if they are offering a prayer or ceremony. If the Elder agrees to attend the event, the tobacco should be offered prior to the event (as far in advance as possible).
Lastly, you should ask if they require any accommodations or have any dietary restrictions if food will be served. Ask if a helper will be attending the event with them. A helper looks after the Elder and can help them with transportation, greeting people and assisting with things like food and drink.
Being an Elder can have many different meanings. For example, if you are a vice-president at the university, I’d ask “The vice-president of what?” I would ask the same question with the term Elder. Elders can specialize in different practices and play different key roles in their community. There are Elders who focus on medicines, Elders who operate sweat lodges, or Elders like myself who are counsellors and advisors and offer guidance, teachings and ceremonies.
Generally, Elders are knowledge keepers and pass on their knowledge and teachings. For me, I like to leave people who have been in front of me feeling better about themselves–it’s all about empowerment and allowing people to find their own potential.
The term Aboriginal is neither right nor wrong. Some of the confusion comes from programs and government funding agencies that still carry the word Aboriginal, however Indigenous is the preferred term for most and the one I recommend non-Indigenous folks use.
The reason it was important to change the name of the university was because the name was harmful to a lot of people. It represented a different time and place when Indigenous people, Black people and other marginalized people were considered less than others. Maintaining the name would have continued that disruption and how people saw themselves at the university.
Also, continuing in the name of Ryerson was going to wind up being detrimental to the university. There was a real risk of losing partnerships and relationships with external stakeholders who did not want to be associated with the Ryerson name.
There are a few ways to be a better ally to Indigenous people on a daily basis:
- It is really important that if you hear someone misrepresenting Indigenous peoples you say something (if it is safe to do so).
- You can pass on teachings that you receive to other people to facilitate the sharing of information and knowledge.
- Offer your help and don’t assume what someone may need. Lots of really well-intentioned people have done the wrong thing by assuming and not asking what someone needs from them.
Doing your own research and educating yourself is a great way to learn about Indigenous communities in Toronto and across Canada. There are lots of online resources to learn about treaties, territories and Indigenous communities (external link) in your area. I’d also encourage you to attend events, participate in tours and visit museums to learn more.
Talk to the older members of your family. Try to get in touch with grandparents, older aunts and uncles and gather as much information as possible. Please remember that in the past a lot of people tried to stay under the radar about being Indigenous because it wasn't safe and healthy for them to do so. Also, try to talk to different members of your family because different people can have different parts of the story.
Try to find out where your family came from, from what territory or band, and you can find out additional information about your ancestry using websites such as the Library and Archives Canada (external link) .
Meetings and events
A non-Indigenous person should offer the Land Acknowledgement at a meeting or event– Indigenous people know whose land they are on. If you aren’t sure, there are tools like Whose Land (external link) to find out what land you are on based on your location.
Oftentimes a Land Acknowledgement is provided or you can explain what the land means to you and acknowledge that you are on traditional territory.
Only if it's an Indigenous-led meeting. You can simply say “Hi, my name is _____, I am a settler and my ancestry is ______.” That’s the information that’s most important for Indigenous people because that tells us a lot about a person. If someone is Inuit compared to someone who comes from the plains in Alberta, they are very different. They have different teachings, land ceremonies and traditions. Knowing where your ancestry comes from tells others a bit more about you.
Yes, ceremonies and gatherings at TMU are educational and open events. I encourage all TMU community members to attend an Indigenous event, it’s a great way to be an ally and to learn!
Teachings & Community Messages
Presidential Task Force on Egerton Ryerson’s Legacy
The Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force was tasked with recommending actions that the university should take to respond to Egerton Ryerson's legacy.
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