On June 21 — National Indigenous Peoples Day — the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design informed its students that it would not be renewing the First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean position.
On July 21, Daniels announced that the faculty would be replacing the First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean position with the First Peoples Leadership Advisory Group.
In response, the Graduate Architecture, Landscape, and Design Student Union’s (GALDSU) and the Architecture and Visual Studies Students Union (AVSSU) have initiated the #DanielsDoBetter2022 campaign. The unions hold that the faculty is backtracking on its commitment to Truth and Reconciliation by replacing the role of the advisor with that of an advisory group.
The unions are requesting that students sign their letter and stand in solidarity with their campaign. They are demanding that the faculty honour its commitment to Truth and Reconciliation and work to improve transparency with students.
The faculty had appointed Elder Whabagoon as the inaugural First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean in June 2021.
The appointment addressed recommendation 11 from the Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee’s final report released in 2017, named Answering the Call Wecheehetowin. This report was drafted in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s report, and outlines recommendations for the university to implement in order to honour its commitment to Truth and Reconciliation.
Recommendation 11 from the report calls on divisions and faculties to create an Indigenous leadership position that would be responsible for assessing the division’s curriculum and formulating opportunities to increase Indigenous representation.
As the First Peoples Leadership Advisor, Elder Whabagoon was to assess the faculty’s programs and curriculum and advise the dean on incorporating Indigenous perspectives into the faculty’s curriculum.
According to the GALDSU and the AVSSU, Elder Whabagoon has been pivotal to the faculty’s progress in implementing the other recommendations of U of T’s Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee.
Since Elder Whabagoon’s appointment at Daniels, the faculty has developed the Daniels Mural Project, which creates a space for Indigenous public art. In 2021, she organized various educational projects for Daniels faculty, staff, and students on Orange Shirt Day.
Additionally, she helped to develop Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag — a program that provides Indigenous youth with learning opportunities for building green design — and the faculty’s first scholarship for undergraduate Indigenous students.
Student union concerns
On the #DanielsDoBetter2022 campaign page, the unions wrote, “The news of terminating the position of First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean has come as a surprise to the DFALD community as the student unions had no knowledge of these changes prior to the release of the statement.”
They continued, “The actions taken by [the faculty] go against the year-long work [Daniels] student groups and unions have put in to increase our faculty’s action with regards to Truth and Reconciliation.”
Specifically, the unions suggest that the nonrenewal of the position means that the faculty is walking back on recommendations from the steering committee’s report. While the unions acknowledge that, by establishing an advisory group, the faculty is following through with recommendation 12 of the report, they do not believe one recommendation should be abandoned in favour of another.
Recommendation 12 calls on divisions and faculties to establish Indigenous advisory councils composed of Indigenous community members.
In an email to The Varsity, the GALDSU and the AVSSU expanded on their concerns.
“We have been told that the position of First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean has been ‘expanded’ into a group of three people,” wrote the unions.
Citing confusion and lack of clarity on the advisory group’s role, the unions explained, “For us students, it made more sense to have a First Peoples Leadership Group at DFALD in addition to the First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean.”
As part of the campaign, the unions listed various questions concerning the advisory group. The questions focus on how the group will be formed, how members of the group will be compensated, and how much decision-making authority the group will have.
The unions also asked whether Elder Whabagoon had been consulted regarding the nonrenewal of her position as First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean and whether she had been consulted regarding the replacement of the position with the advisory group.
After the campaign letter had been posted on the GALDSU website, the unions received an email from the Office of the Dean. “Calling this email a response to the letter would be too generous as it did not actually respond to anything but instead, went on to restate the information we were already given about this ‘expansion,’ ” wrote the unions.
After receiving the email response from the faculty, the unions did not feel that their questions regarding the advisory group’s role had been answered.
The GALDSU and AVSSU explained that they had written the campaign letter and formulated demands with support from Indigenous students in the faculty.
In addition to answers to their questions, the unions demand that all staff at the Office of the Dean be required to complete cultural training. They stressed that this training must be completed in consultation with Indigenous groups and that it must not be limited to a one-time session.
The unions also demand that the faculty fulfill recommendations eight and 15 of the steering committee’s final report. The recommendations call on the Vice-President Human Resources and Equity’s Office to conduct exit interviews with Indigenous faculty and staff when they leave U of T employment. They also call on the Provost’s Office, in consultation with divisions and faculties, to expand financial support for Elder services.
The unions would like to discuss their questions and demands with the Office of the Dean and the university administration: “Our community is very important to us, and we believe that everyone should have the right to speak out without any fear of retaliation, and [a well-mediated environment] is the kind of space we are hoping to provide for this conversation.”
The university’s response
In a statement to The Varsity, a U of T spokesperson wrote, “The role of First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean has not been eliminated, but expanded into a three-member Advisory Group.”
The U of T spokesperson explained that the decision to “evolve the role from a single advisor to a group” was informed by consultations with faculty members and university staff as well as Indigenous experts not affiliated with U of T.
About the change, the U of T spokesperson wrote, “The primary intention behind expanding the position into a multi-person advisory group was to diversify and increase the Indigenous perspectives and experiences within the dean’s office and at the Faculty as a whole.”
Explaining that the inaugural role of First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean was only contracted until June 30, the faculty decided to adopt a new process. The spokesperson wrote, “The new process now includes a public open call for members of the [advisory group] and for the Daniels Faculty and members of U of T’s Indigenous community to jointly review the applications.”
With regard to the GALDSU and the AVSSU’s campaign, the U of T spokesperson explained that the Office of the Dean had reached out to the GALDSU’s executive team and initiated a discussion. The U of T spokesperson wrote that the faculty is open to being involved in further dialogue on this “important topic.”