Heidi Bohaker and Audrey Rochette made the announcement at Massey College. PHOTO COURTESY OF MASSEY COLLEGE

After a nearly two-year inquiry, a Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS) commission has formally recommended that the University of Toronto create and construct a new “Indigenous College with Residence Space.”

The announcement was made at a Massey College event on September 17 by co-chairs of the commission, Associate Professor Heidi Bohaker and Junior Fellow Audrey Rochette. They have been engaged in this commission, called the Decanal Working Group (DWG), since the summer of 2016, when it was created by FAS Dean David Cameron.

The college would also act as a physical monument, acknowledging that U of T has and continues to operate on the traditional lands of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River for thousands of years. In addition, it would provide a physical space for a community of students interested in Indigenous studies.

The college would accept both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students from at least the FAS and operate in a similar way to other U of T colleges.

It would maintain “residence spaces, a registrar service, faculty members drawn from different units, spaces for commuter services, and [spaces] for academic programs that are connected to the college,” said Bohaker.

However, what would be unique about this space is that it would also offer services designed specifically to support Indigenous students returning to continue their education. For instance, as Indigenous university students are “often mature students with families,” according to Rochette, the DWG has recommended the operation of a daycare service within the college.

The space would also provide medical and psychological services, contingent on a community partnership with Anishnawbe Health Services, a clinic near UTSG.

Traditional healers from the clinic would provide medical as well as spiritual services from an Indigenous cultural perspective.

According to Rochette, the partnership would ease the burden on the Elders in Residence who are currently providing spiritual services at U of T.

The need for support has also been felt by Indigenous professors, said Rochette, who have been “taking in the students who are going through other issues and trying to support them when they also have to produce their own academic work.”

The architecture of the college could possibly be inspired by the Akwe:kon residence hall at Cornell University, along with the First Nations Longhouse at the University of British Columbia, said Bohaker.

“We envision garden space, outdoor teaching and land-based pedagogy space, classroom space that envisions Indigenous pedagogies — no lecture halls with desks welded to the floor,” said Bohaker.

“Imagine learning in a circle, and how being in a circle changes how you relate to other people in the circle.”

The DWG has recommended for the college to be built at UTSG. Currently, there is no official statement by the Office of the President to commit to securing land for the project.

The Dean’s Advisory Circle is currently exploring cost estimates and funding sources. A timeline for completion of the analysis is not yet known, as the work of the recently-created group is “just getting underway,” according to the FAS communications office.

The DWG has recommended for the college to open in 2030.

Building on the TRC

A mission of the DWG was to explore how the FAS could implement recommendations from the 94 Calls to Action released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in December 2015.

From 2008–2015, the TRC documented the human rights abuses inflicted on Indigenous children throughout Canada’s colonial history at residential boarding schools they were mandated to attend.

The Calls to Action called on Canadian institutions to take specific actions steps to heal the damage done to the Indigenous people by these residential schools and colonialism.

Specifically, Call 65 advocated for the establishment of “national research program with multi-year funding to advance understanding of reconciliation” between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Canada. The DWG explored how U of T could answer Call 65, and that resulted in the DWG’s own Call to Action for U of T to create a new Indigenous college to centralize the university’s Indigenous studies research.

The DWG issued a Call to Action to create a “Dean’s Advisory Circle” to implement the recommendations of the Group’s report. Thus far, Professor Pamela Klassen, Vice-Dean Undergraduate, and Professor Susan Hill, Director of the Centre for Indigenous Studies, have been appointed as co-chairs.

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