In the first of many upcoming talking circles, UTSC’s Indigenous Elder Wendy Phillips gathered with members of the UTSC community on January 11 to introduce the goals of this initiative and how it hopes to address the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).

The purpose of the talking circles is to build awareness in the UTSC community about Indigenous history and struggles, as well as to share thoughts and feelings about the TRC’s report.

Phillips has partnered with the Circles of Reconciliation’s Susan Dowan to hold these talking circles. Circles of Reconciliation is an organization that aims to “establish trusting, meaningful relationships between Indigenous and Non-Indigenous peoples.”

The TRC report was a landmark 2015 document that revealed the truth about Canada’s residential school system, and included accounts of Indigenous children who were physically and sexually abused in government boarding schools. According to the report, the TRC “identified a fractured relationship between [the] nations.”

The TRC published 94 Calls to Action that asked the government to work to repair the damages from residential schools, and to reconcile institutional relationships with members of Canada’s Indigenous communities. A number of these Calls to Action touched on changes to postsecondary education.

“This process of reconciliation… takes a lot of work,” said Phillips. “What we hope to achieve with these circles is to provide the opportunity for advocacy and education.”

Phillips began the program with a smudging ceremony, which involved Phillips lighting sage and passing the smoke around to the participants. This traditional ritual cleanses the mind and body, Phillips said.

“A talking circle… is very common with the Indigenous nations,” said Phillips. “We have different talking items that you can use.”

Phillips held out a carved wooden stick with colours of red, black, and yellow.

“This is a talking stick, this was my mother’s actually,” said Phillips. “The concept is everybody is given the opportunity to share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions of what’s being asked of them. So, after you’re done, you say thank you and pass [the talking stick] onto the next person.”

Dowan said that the talking circles will meet for 10 weeks, and that there are various themes each week. The themes can range anywhere from residential schools, to reconciliation, to Indigenous people.

The talking circles will give UTSC students the opportunity for dialogue that “was not really there.”

The topic for the talking circle next week will tackle the question of what exactly reconciliation is.

“It is a lot of learning, there are a lot of stories and experiences,” said Phillips. “Sometimes it will get emotional.”