No one on The Varsity’s masthead — our core editorial team — is Indigenous. As settler-Canadians, immigrants, and international students, we can’t speak for Indigenous students, staff, or faculty.
Our staff, which includes anyone who has contributed to the paper at least six times, includes very few, and possibly no, Indigenous writers. This estimate is based on our yearly internal demographic survey: in the 2021–2022 academic year, none of the respondents identified as Indigenous. During each of the two years prior, we had one Indigenous person on staff who responded to the survey. (We haven’t sent out our internal demographic survey for the 2022–2023 year yet, but plan to do so in the coming month.)
These numbers mean there are gaps in The Varsity’s structure. We have heard over the years that our policies and practices are not equitable and inclusive. In addition, we are often unaware of important context and may miss the stories important to Indigenous peoples in the U of T community. This means that Indigenous students do not find themselves represented in our pages or our organization structure.
When non-Indigenous people report on Indigenous stories, that reporting is not always respectful to the people covered. In addition, Indigenous peoples and their stories are underrepresented in Canadian media at large. That is why The Varsity is determined to make more space for Indigenous contributors. It’s also why we wanted to dedicate an issue to Indigenous stories and coverage.
We’ve been trying to publish an Indigenous Issue at The Varsity for at least the past two years. After several years of effort, this is the first time The Varsity has gathered enough stories to release an Indigenous Issue — and that’s something we’re not proud of. A dedicated focus on Indigenous peoples in our pages is long overdue.
We’re making this a special issue so we can compensate contributors for their labour — something that often isn’t within our budget as a student newspaper. For this issue, we’ll be paying Indigenous contributors honoraria amounting to around $600 in total. The Varsity committed to spending at least $1,000 on this issue, so we’ll donate the rest of that money to an Indigenous organization, which our masthead will select in the coming days. We’ll update the online version of this article when we’ve done so.
Looking ahead, we don’t want this Indigenous Issue to be a one-time initiative. This issue represents a broader commitment to covering Indigenous communities at U of T and in the GTA. We hope that future Varsity editors will build upon that commitment for years to come.
And we don’t want to set a precedent that The Varsity pays attention to Indigenous peoples and stories for one issue a year. We are committed to regularly publishing stories about, for, and — hopefully, more and more — by Indigenous members of the university community. Both mainstream and student media have harmed Indigenous communities and continue to do so today. We are complicit in that harm — so we are also committed to taking more care.
We have a long way to go. We need to ensure that each year’s masthead team learns about the histories and diverse cultures of the Indigenous peoples that we cover. We need to report on a wider range of stories about Indigenous peoples — stories about challenges and barriers, but also stories of hope, community, and celebration. We need to approach community interactions in a way that meets the expectations of Indigenous students, staff, and faculty. We have to improve our editing and fact-checking processes to anticipate Indigenous worldviews and stories, and we need to include Indigenous voices in non-Indigenous-specific coverage. We also need to continually revise our Equity Guide to improve our practices for reporting on and with Indigenous communities.
We will make mistakes as we journey through the early stages of this work, and as those arise, we will take responsibility for them. We welcome feedback — regarding this special issue, or about The Varsity’s initiatives to improve our Indigenous coverage in general. If there’s anything you’d like to share with us, please reach out to Jadine Ngan at [email protected].
Down the line, we hope there will be a Varsity team where multiple Indigenous students with a variety of lived experiences have a stake in leadership and decision making. We hope The Varsity will become a newspaper that builds and maintains reciprocal relationships with various Indigenous community members and covers Indigenous stories with the care and basic competency they deserve. We are not yet that version of The Varsity. But we hope we are making a step, even if only a small one, toward it — and even if The Varsity meets these aims, we know there will still be work to do.
We are especially thankful to Shannon Simpson, director of U of T’s Indigenous Initiatives, for sitting with The Varsity to talk about U of T’s work on Indigenous initiatives in the past few years.