Elder Andrew Wesley gives Provost Cheryl Regehr and President Meric Gertler the TRC report in January 2017.

Just over two years ago, U of T’s Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee released the “Wecheehetowin” report, which contained 34 calls to action that the university should undertake to engage in Canada’s ongoing process of reconciliation with Indigenous people. Eleven of these calls relate to Indigenous faculty and staff — including “significant” increases to recruitment, greater support networks, and increased community-based research. The report was presented to U of T President Meric Gertler and Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr, who both spoke of the opportunity to work toward change. But now, some 26 months later, how much progress has been made to change the university’s Indigenous faculty and staff policies, and what does U of T still have planned?

Increasing Indigenous employee representation

Out of the 8,897 U of T employees surveyed, 74 self-identify as Indigenous, representing 0.83 per cent of workers. This is according to the 2017–2018 employment equity report, a summary of employee responses to a survey as of July 31, 2018. These 8,897 responses represent 81 per cent of total eligible respondents. Of the 74 Indigenous employees represented, 56 are staff and 18 are faculty and librarians.

By contrast, Statistics Canada’s 2016 census reported that just under five per cent of Canadians self-identify as Indigenous.

Last year’s 2016–2017 employment equity report, the first after the release of “Wecheehetowin,” showed that there were 59 self-identified Indigenous employees — 49 staff and 10 faculty and librarians. In comparison to previous years’ employment equity reports, the 74 Indigenous employees currently at U of T is the highest number the university has reported since 2005, when 88 out of 6,720 employees self-identified as “Aboriginal Persons.”

One of the Steering Committee’s calls was for the university to make targeted funds available to increase Indigenous hires. The university subsequently dedicated a base $2.5 million of its 2017–2018 budget for hiring of 20 faculty and 20 staff positions. The fund covers 50 per cent of new hires’ starting salaries and benefits. According to the budget, the funds “will be held in a central pool until positions are filled, allowing for maximum flexibility in [which divisions] the hires are made.”

This funding commitment is also represented in the recent 2019–2020 budget through a $1.5 million allocation to the third phase of the Diversity in Academic Hiring fund. This allocation will support the hiring of 20 Black and Indigenous faculty; portions of the previous phases have provided funding to support hiring 20 Indigenous faculty and 20 Indigenous staff.

Part of the increase in self-reported Indigenous employees this year comes from 11 new hires, although four ended their U of T employment. In 2016–2017, the university had seven new hires and six exits.

Indigenous employment at other universities

While the latest available data from Ryerson University and York University are both less comprehensive than U of T’s data, they reveal that U of T has a greater number of Indigenous employees. Ryerson’s most recent report is from 2016, which states that one per cent of “close to 6,000 employees” self-identified as Indigenous. However, according to a 2017 Eyeopener article, the number may be as high as 90 Indigenous employees, five of whom are tenure-track faculty. At York, approximately one per cent of 3,980 employees self-identified as Indigenous — likely representing between 38 and 41 employees. OCAD University is collecting representation data but has not publicly released its findings.

Looking more broadly at U of T’s main competitors in Canada, McGill University reported in 2017 that 22 of 4,830 employees, or 0.5 per cent, self-identified as “Aboriginal.” The University of British Columbia reported in 2016 that 137 out of 9,596 employees, or 1.4 per cent, self-identified as Indigenous.

Indigenous Elder support

Two of the calls to action regarding faculty and staff relate to increasing support of university Elders and the Elders Circle, which consists of Elders and traditional teachers. “Wecheehetowin” emphasizes “the importance of Elders in achieving reconciliation.” It adds that the four Elders at the university are “unsurprisingly ‘overextended in terms of their commitments’, leaving a significant amount of unmet need in terms of those wishing to benefit from the guidance offered by Elders.”

The report calls on the university to either hire these four Elders on a full-time basis or to provide opportunities for more Elders to become involved with the university in order to support students and employees. It also includes calls to increase allocated space for Indigenous activities. Part of this has been addressed with UTSC hiring Indigenous Engagement Coordinator Juanita Muise in August. Muise’s role is to engage with employees and students to connect with Indigenous programming and culture.

However, in conversation with The Varsity in November, Muise said that the space available to UTSC Indigenous Elder Wendy Phillips is insufficient. She said, “They keep saying [that] in two years we’re going to have a First Nations House here, on this campus. We can’t wait two years. It’s not fair to our students that are here now. Everybody deserves to have a space.”

Networking and outreach

Another “Wecheehetowin” call to action regarding employees is to “seek out additional ways to encourage and facilitate networking opportunities for Indigenous faculty and Indigenous staff.”

Among U of T’s initiatives is Indigenous Mentoring Day, a tri-campus biannual event that connects Indigenous job-seekers with U of T mentors based on their career interests. According to university spokesperson Elizabeth Church, since the first Indigenous Mentoring Day in April 2018, “46 U of T faculty and staff members have signed up to mentor individuals interested in working at the University.” These job-seekers shadow their mentors for a day and are then entered into U of T’s list for future career opportunities.

Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, the co-chair of the “Wecheehetowin” report, was named the first Director of Indigenous Initiatives in April 2017. According to Church, “he is working on a range of initiatives including advising on a strategy to boost student recruitment in fields with traditionally low Indigenous representation… and [advising] on increasing Indigenous spaces on our three campuses.”

Given the recently announced $88 million shortage to the university’s previously projected 2019–2020 expenditure ability, U of T’s budget notes that the plan to hire 51 additional faculty may be delayed, potentially impacting prospective Indigenous hires. Church told The Varsity that “any decisions to delay hiring for those positions would be made by the academic divisions based on their divisional academic priorities and resources.”

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