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Honouring Indigenous cultures and building community through Truth and Reconciliation

A summary of initiatives from the co-chairs of the Truth and Reconciliation Working Group
Category:From the co-chairs of the Truth and Reconciliation Working Group
March 03, 2022
A close up of the Ring installed on campus.

Above, a close up of the Ring art installation on campus. Truth and Reconciliation remains a priority for the university, guiding strategies, planning and decision-making. See the steps the university has taken below.

Since the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada report in 2015, and the university’s  (PDF file) community consultation report in 2018 published by the Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion (OVPECI), the university has continued to make progress in addressing the recommendations of the reports, while recognizing the long journey that remains on the path towards Truth and Reconciliation. 

Truth and Reconciliation remains a priority for the university. It guides our strategies, planning and decision-making. One of the first steps taken by the university was in 2015, President Mohamed Lachemi launched a community-wide consultation process to develop a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report,  (PDF file) Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future (external link) 

Consultations were led by Denise O’Neil Green, former vice-president, equity and community inclusion, and Joanne Okimawininew Dallaire, elder, (Ke Shay Hayo) and senior advisor, Indigenous relations and reconciliation, who have since become co-chairs of the Truth and Reconciliation Working Group, along with Jennifer Simpson, provost and vice-president, academic. 

Progress on Truth and Reconciliation is measured by outcomes from the six themes in Building a New Foundation for Generations to Come, the community consultation report, and motivated by the university’s respect for Indigenous perspectives, and commitment to building relationships with Indigenous communities. 

Every university initiative is unique in terms of its timeline and implementation. Efforts to Indigenize and address the systemic barriers within our community are imperative — the road is long, and progress towards Truth and Reconciliation should be considered a daily practice, or journey, not a project with a beginning and an end.

Truth and Reconciliation and the Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win (Standing Strong) Task Force

Research on Egerton Ryerson’s role in Ontario’s public education system began in 2010 by Ryerson’s Aboriginal Education Council, and his harmful connection to the Indian Residential School System was later documented in the 2018 community consultation report. Based on the report’s recommendation,  President Lachemi struck the Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win (Standing Strong) Task Force in November 2020 to seek an understanding of Egerton Ryerson’s life and legacy and the role of commemoration in our community. 

Summary of Progress:

Here’s an update on how the university is responding to the  Truth and Reconciliation community consultation report recommendations according to each of the six themes. 

In 2020, five major strategic plans were released at the university:

These plans serve as a blueprint for the next several years and are united by an overarching Strategic Vision for the period 2020 to 2030. Each of these documents emphasizes Indigenous perspectives and resurgence as key priorities or essential components of the plan. Each recognizes that it is critical that an Indigenous focus becomes entrenched in the work of the university.

In order to increase access to postsecondary education for Indigenous learners, the university has established a number of programs and pathways to remove barriers and increase support through scholarships, mentorship and academic resources.

Aboriginal Student Services Open House (RASS) 

RASS provides a culturally supportive environment to promote academic excellence and serves as a place to balance academic learning with traditional teachings and culture. The team offers programs and services that offer a culturally supportive environment to promote academic excellence. A virtual open house was held on March 1 and 3, 2022 for the community and prospective students to learn more about new initiatives and updates, such as the Aboriginal Foundations Program, the Aboriginal Education Council Curriculum Development Project, the Indigenous Knowledges and Experiences Certificate and more.

Tri-Mentoring Program for Indigenous students

Launched in 2021, TMP for Indigenous students is a unique group mentorship program led by an Indigenous student facilitator that helps create community for Indigenous students, and helps them navigate their university experience.

Mental Health and Wellbeing

In partnership with Workplace Wellbeing, Aboriginal Initiatives in OVPECI has secured Indigenous trauma counsellors for individual and group support through Employee and Family Assistance Program provider Life Works (formerly) Morneau Shepell. Traditional counselling for students is also available through RASS and culturally appropriate counselling through the Centre for Student Development and Counselling (CSDC). In addition, Workplace Wellbeing Services and Aboriginal Initiatives have organized beading workshops for the community where participants can gather, to build relationships and address shared grief and trauma through a communal cultural activity. 

Financial Support

In the last year, 196 financial awards supported by donor funds were given to students who self-identify as Indigenous. With respect to philanthropy, approximately $500,000 has been directed to Indigenous students. That figure does not include any internally funded awards (YSGS), prizes, grants or support administered at the faculty, department level outside of the Registrar's Office and Award Spring (the university’s student award system) and University Advancement. As well, some donor funds have been matched. 

A number of internally and externally funded scholarships, awards and bursaries for Indigenous undergraduate and graduate students have been made available, including:

Ryerson is committed to developing a culturally respectful curriculum that integrates Indigenous pedagogies, and values Indigenous ways of knowing. Resources for Indigenous students have been established in a number of faculties, and support for faculty has been developed to address TRC Calls to Action in classes.

Indigenous Advisors

A growing number of faculties have employed Indigenous Advisors to promote reconciliation priorities and increase access to resources and support for Indigenous students. While each advisor carries faculty-specific responsibilities, they all address barriers to Indigenous student enrolment and liaise with faculty and staff to make programs more accessible for Indigenous students.

The Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching (CELT)

For National Indigenous People’s Month, CELT created an Indigenous Education web page with resources for faculty, including podcasts, videos and literature from the University Library. CELT and the library also developed a research guide for faculty to help engage students in learning about the legacy of residential schools, reflect on the Calls to Action, and to identify ways of incorporating TRC content in their courses.

Hiring and retaining Indigenous faculty is one main component to reconciliation, as it removes barriers and welcomes Indigenous voices into the academic community. The university has also heard that Traditional Knowledge Keepers are integral to the system, and should be welcomed and respected. This visibility directly impacts Indigenous students and their sense of belonging. 

Learn for Empowerment

To help address systemic barriers for Indigenous candidates for staff positions, Human Resources has established an Indigenous-led program called Learn for Empowerment. Through the program, up to 10 Indigenous candidates annually will be offered a year-long contract (including salary and benefits) at Ryerson. Established using a community-based model, the program offers candidates the opportunity to gain work experience in the education sector, and access mentorship and career counselling. The hope is that a number of these participants will be hired within our university.

 (PDF file) Ryerson Faculty Association (RFA) Collective Agreement Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) 28: Hiring and Evaluation of Indigenous Faculty Members and Librarian

An MOU was established between the RFA and Ryerson to establish new processes for hiring Indigenous faculty members and support their academic and teaching experiences at the university. In addition to establishing systems to hire and retain faculty members, the MOU advocates for the creation of an RFA Indigenous Faculty Committee, and Traditional Knowledge Keeper/Indigenous Language Speaker within faculties/departments. As of September 2021, there were 23 Indigenous faculty members at Ryerson, an increase from seven faculty in the 2018-2019 academic year (18 hires and two departures).

Truth and Reconciliation at the university-level is powered by engagement and partnerships with Indigenous communities. Cultivating these relationships helps to build an inclusive culture and environment, building upon Indigenous awareness and cross-cultural experiences. 

Pow Wow, Education Week and Vendor Market

In 2018 the Pow Wow was relaunched at the university, after a nearly 20 year hiatus, with the help of the Saagajiwe Centre for Indigenous Research and Creation at Ryerson’s The Creative School. The following year, the Pow Wow expanded to include a week of educational programming and a vendor market, which features classes, panels, workshops and promotes community engagement. In 2020 and 2021 the event pivoted temporarily to a digital format in response to COVID-19.

Saagajiwe Centre for Indigenous Research and Creation (external link) 

Saagajiwe is a transdisciplinary Indigenous centre for research and creation launched by The Creative School in 2017. Named after the Anishinaabe word for the emerging light of dawn, Saagajiwe’s mission is to facilitate the dissemination of Indigenous thought and culture. In addition to research, priorities include Indigenous creative expression, interdisciplinary curriculum development and creative spaces on campus. While not a direct response to the TRC consultation report, Saagajiwe plays an important role in the Indigenization of the university.

The university continues to evolve as we examine our campus, our processes and methodologies, to acknowledge and incorporate Indigenous history and cultures. Recent actions taken to increase Indigenous visibility will help shape a more equitable and inclusive campus.

Standing Strong Task Force

The  (PDF file) Standing Strong Task Force Report and Recommendations includes 22 recommendations, such as renaming the institution, increasing support for Indigenous scholarship, and providing more opportunities to learn about Indigenous history and Indigenous and colonial relations. Though the specific objectives of the Working Group and Task Force are distinct, together they promote the Indigenization of campus, define the university’s priorities, and support a path to Truth and Reconciliation.

Indigenous Placemaking

The Indigenous Space Sub-Working Group was created to help integrate Indigenous perspectives and design principles into campus projects such as the Indigenous Ring, the RAC Immersive Space, and the library’s art installation. Symbols of the university’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation, each of these unique installations serves as a way to recognize Indigenous cultures and bring visibility to the land on which the university is situated.

Graduation Stoles

In 2019, the university's regalia guidelines were clarified to outline that Indigenous graduates may choose to wear traditional Indigenous regalia at Convocation, the traditional gown and hood, or a combination of the two. Stoles were created by RASS following consultation with Indigenous students for Indigenous graduates to wear at Convocation. Due to the pandemic, these had to be mailed for virtual ceremonies. Ceremonials and RASS hope to see Indigenous graduates wearing their stoles and regalia on stage when it is safe to do so.

Thanks to the support of our community and the work of the TRC Strategic committee and from the Standing Strong Task Force, change is underway — on our campus, in our curricula, and our vision for the future of the university. Collectively the university is shifting our mindset, which is the first step in transforming our academic institution and cultural norms. There is not a finite goal, or an end to this important work, but the university will keep moving forward, continuing to cultivate an environment that is upheld by mutual respect and collaboration. 

To learn more, and find ways to support Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson, visit our website.

Joanne Okimawininew Dallaire
Elder (ke shay hayo) and senior advisor, Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation

Anver Saloojee
Interim vice-president, equity and community inclusion

Jennifer Simpson
Provost and vice-president, academic


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