U of T has issued a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee’s Final Report, including an acknowledgement of the University of Toronto’s “responsibility in contributing to the plight of Indigenous peoples.”
The statement, titled Humility, Responsibility, Opportunity: In Response to the Report of the University of Toronto’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Steering Committee, was released jointly by President Meric Gertler and Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr on February 16.
Gertler and Regehr thanked the Committee for its dedication to crafting the Final Report and stated that the Committee “performed a great service for the University of Toronto, for the extended U of T community, and for Canada.”
“The Commission and the Committee both emphasized that the vital first step towards reconciliation is acknowledging the truth,” reads part of the statement, in a section titled “Challenging but Optimistic.” The statement continues, “To its enormous credit, the Committee’s report does not equivocate in this task; the report both confronts and challenges us with the truth. And we must accept this challenge.”
The committee’s final report was released on January 10. It included 34 ‘Calls to Action’ in which six different working groups gave their criticism and constructive advice to the administration so it can honour the TRC. These working groups focused on: Indigenous Spaces; Indigenous Faculty and Staff; Indigenous Curriculum; Indigenous Research Ethics and Community Relationships; Indigenous Students and Indigenous Co-Curricular Education; and Institutional Leadership/Implementation.
In a section of the final report called “Indigenous Research Ethics and Community Relationships,” the Committee recommends the creation of a “permanent central office in the Provost’s office that supports the success of Indigenous initiatives through resources, education, training and advocacy” and later goes on to detail the existing Indigenous Initiatives & Programming at U of T.
In response to this recommendation, Gertler and Regehr stated that they will appoint a Director of Indigenous Initiatives. A description of the position details that “the Director will have a mandate to coordinate, advise, collaborate, and liaise with academic and non-academic communities addressing the Steering Committee’s calls to action.”
“The Director of Indigenous Initiatives will be important because it will be a position that really consolidates the efforts across the university,” said Regehr in an interview with The Varsity. “Right now groups are working across the university on issues such as space, curriculum, and access. The Director of Indigenous Initiatives is really going to support that and assist us to think about this as a coordinated kind of effort across the university.”
Regehr confirmed that it is the administration’s goal to hire the Director of Indigenous Initiatives in the next couple of months and that the hiring process is already underway.
She also highlighted the administration’s commitment in the budget to allocate $1.5 million in matching funds for creating Indigenous spaces, a major part of the Committee’s final report, as well as funds for 20 new faculty positions and 20 new staff positions respectively, specifically allocated to hiring Indigenous people.
Part of the response to the final report stated that U of T has been complicit in the oppression of Indigenous people.
Clarifying what the university has done to contribute to the plight of Indigenous people, Regehr stated: “Over the years that the University of Toronto has been offering education, we have educated teachers, social workers, doctors, nurses, other professionals, that have contributed to providing services in what we now know to be oppressive systems, such as the residential schools.”
Regehr cited politicians and policy makers who had attended U of T as others who had contributed to oppression of Indigenous peoples.
She went on to add that U of T has “not adequately addressed barriers to participation that have led to underrepresentation of Indigenous staff, students, and faculty, and these are issues that we are seeking to redress.”