In 2017, U of T’s Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee (TRSC) released a report that built off of the work of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In addition to highlighting the university’s role in forcing the assimilation of and perpetrating violence against Indigenous people, the report included 34 calls to action. In the report, the steering committee urged the university to commit to the long process of reconciliation.
The report reads that, “This report is but a beginning for the University of Toronto of what will be a long set of challenges, and yes, struggles.” The report quoted Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s speech at Six Nations community near U of T, reminding the university community, “Don’t ever think it’s over.”
In an interview with The Varsity, Shannon Simpson, senior director of Indigenous initiatives at the Office of Indigenous Initiatives (OII), discussed the difficulty of tracking progress on the TRSC’s calls to action. “[The calls to action] will be ongoing. They’re not things that we’ll probably ever be able to cross off the list,” she said.
The Varsity sought to document U of T’s progress on each of the 34 calls to action.
Consider building a dedicated Indigenous space at UTSG.
In 2020, U of T unveiled a design proposal for the Indigenous Landscape at Taddle Creek, located on the Hart House Green. The space marks the course of Taddle Creek — which ran from the current day intersection of St. Clair Ave. W and Bathurst St. and served as a fishing and gathering place for the Mississaugas of the Credit and other peoples before settlers buried the creek in the 1800s.
The design, created in consultation with many U of T community members, features a gathering area, signage with information and stories, benches, and a variety of tree species.
Consult with local Indigenous communities to develop a strategy to fund more Indigenous public art across all three campuses.
Since 2017, U of T has commissioned several pieces of artwork across U of T’s campuses, including the Tree Protection Zone, a work of street art located in front of Hart House that eight Indigenous artists created. In 2019, Animikiik’otcii Maakaai, UTSC’s former Indigenous artist-in-residence, unveiled a solo exhibition featuring pieces focused on storytelling and ceremony. Mikinaak Migwans, a Faculty of Arts and Sciences professor, multimedia artist, and Anishinaabekwe of Wikwemikong Unceded First Nation, joined the Art Museum at University of Toronto as curator, Indigenous contemporary art in 2020.
Begin building Indigenous spaces at UTM and UTSC.
At UTM, U of T erected a tipi on the field outside of Maanjiwe nendamowinan (Mahn-ji-way nen-da-mow-in-ahn), the building that houses the campus’ humanities and social sciences departments, which is more commonly referred to as MN. The tipi is used for various programming and ceremonies. In 2021, the university began constructing the Indigenous House on the UTSC campus, which will support various Indigenous ways of learning and knowing. The building will be surrounded by gardens and will overlook the Highland Creek Ravine.
Begin identifying and naming appropriate spaces across U of T’s campuses using Indigenous languages.
Various faculties have incorporated Indigenous languages into their signage, notably the Faculty of Law, which installed signage outside of the Indigenous Law Students’ Association office. These include Kwak’wala, spoken in 15 First Nations on the Northwest Coast of Turtle Island; Oneida, a Haudenosaunee language spoken in the Northeast; and Cree, an Alogonquian language family spoken in southern Canada. In 2019, U of T collaborated with the Mississaugas of the Credit First Nation to name the newly renovated humanities and social sciences building Maanjiwe nendamowinan, which translates to “gathering of minds” in Anishinaabemowin.
The designs for all renovations or new buildings should take smudging into account.
Smudging is a practice in multiple Indigenous traditions, where individuals burn herbs or plants such as sweetgrass, sage, and cedar as a means of purifying themselves or a space. Multiple rooms across U of T are preapproved for smudging. The renovated William Doo Auditorium, located in New College, includes smudging rooms. The UTSC Indigenous House will use heat sensors instead of smoke detectors throughout the building to allow for smudging.
The provost should hire a significant number of Indigenous faculty by creating funds specific to that goal.
Since 2017, the proportion of Indigenous faculty and staff at the university has grown, partially because of the creation of new Indigenous positions. In 2016–2017, the vice president and provost dedicated a new fund to hiring faculty from groups underrepresented at U of T and, in 2017–2018, initiated a separate fund specifically dedicated to hiring 20 new Indigenous faculty and 20 new Indigenous staff. The university also began a Postdoctoral Fellowship Program, which hires Black and Indigenous scholars and supports their research and career development.
The university should build additional avenues to support networking opportunities for Indigenous faculty and staff.
In 2019, the Office of the Vice-President, International facilitated a research partnership between U of T Indigenous scholars and scholars at the University of Sydney, the University of Melbourne, and the Melbourne Indigenous Transition School to create a plan that supports students to engage in Indigenous research in Australia and Canada. The Indigenous Research Network launched in 2021, forming connections between researchers, faculty, and staff focused on researching the challenges that Indigenous communities face.
Conduct exit interviews with any Indigenous faculty and staff who leave the university.
According to Simpson, all staff and faculty have the opportunity to participate in an exit interview. There is no formal system in place to interview all Indigenous faculty and staff who decide to leave.
Review the anti-discrimination training materials supplied to hiring committees to ensure that they discuss specific issues related to Indigenous peoples.
In 2020, the Office of the Vice-Provost, Faculty and Academic Life organized a workshop for leadership and faculty who participate in hiring, tenure, and promotion processes. The workshop aimed to provide leadership and faculty with guidelines for incorporating equity and inclusion into hiring decisions, as well as reducing the effects of bias. The OII encourages placing Indigenous faculty on hiring committees and offers training sessions on Indigenous issues. According to Simpson, U of T does not require that members of hiring committees participate in any diversity and inclusion training sessions.
Assess the Indigenous cultural awareness training programs and begin discussions about how community members can promote equity and cultural sensitivity in relations to Indigenous peoples.
The OII piloted Indigenous Cultural Competency Training sessions in 2019. That same year, it hired John Croutch as Indigenous Training Coordinator, who took on the role of customizing training sessions for the university’s senior leadership.
Each division should consider creating an Indigenous leadership position within the Office of the Dean.
Multiple divisions have hired Indigenous advisors, mentors, and Elders in residence, some of whom are cross appointed with the Office of the Dean. These divisions include the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Victoria University, the Faculty of Architecture, the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, the Faculty of Law, and Woodsworth College.
Consider creating an Indigenous Advisory Council largely made up of Indigenous community members external to U of T.
The Council of Indigenous Initiatives Elders’ Circle, which is affiliated with the university, existed prior to the TRSC’s 2017 report and comprises Elders who are not employed by the university. The Circle meets three times a year to review the university’s governance, strategic planning processes, academic and research programs, and relations to employees. Twice yearly, the Dalla Lana School of Public Health consults the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health National Aboriginal Community Advisory Council, made up of 22 Indigenous academic and community members from across Canada.
The provost and the vice-president, research and innovation should collaborate with the Faculty Association to convene a working group to investigate issues related to research in and with Indigenous communities, create guidelines for ethically producing this research, and determine how the university should assess this research for tenure and promotion.
In 2020, the Academic Advisor on Indigenous Research started the Office of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation Indigenous Research Circle to advise on community-focused research, programs, and policy. Additionally, members of the Indigenous Research Circle serve as staff on the Indigenous Research Network, which connects Indigenous scholars and promotes participatory Indigenous research.
Actively increase the number of Indigenous staff members who support important programs such as those aimed at strengthening Aboriginal languages and supporting Indigenous students. Over time, U of T should aim to fund these positions through core budgets instead of year-to-year add ons.
In 2016, U of T started the Diversity in Academic Hiring Fund, which funds positions targeted at Indigenous and Black faculty. According to the 2020 Report on Employment Equity, 1.1 per cent of staff self-identified as Aboriginal, and the proportion of staff who identified as Indigenous/Aboriginal and as racialized increased from the previous year.
Expand access to Elder services and financial supports for connecting with Elders.
U of T has introduced multiple initiatives to connect students and faculty with Elders. The Elder’s Circle meets with different divisions and members of the university community, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. New College has partnered with local Indigenous governments to create a program connecting students and Elders monthly. The Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health holds monthly student/Elder talking circles, and the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education hosts language events featuring Elders.
Examine the role and structure of the Elders Circle, particularly how the Circle’s mandate differs from the Council of Aboriginal Initiatives. U of T should also promote the importance of Elders across campus, particularly in advising senior leadership.
The 2019 report of the OII discusses the Elders’ Circle and the importance of Elders at U of T more broadly. According to the report, the OII encourages “the community to engage and grow in connection with them. The teachings and support of the University’s Elders are regularly called upon by divisions and academic units.”
Integrate significant Indigenous content into the curriculum of all divisions by 2025, and evaluate each division’s progress regularly.
In response to the Canadian government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, multiple faculties introduced initiatives to make Indigenous content mandatory, including the Faculty of Medicine, the Faculty of Law, and the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. Since 2017, many divisions have taken additional steps to incorporate Indigenous curricula. Some, including the Faculty of Arts and Science, have convened working groups to advise on Indigenous curricula. UTSC offers grants for the development of Indigenous curricula and hosts an annual retreat for faculty to develop Indigenous curricula. In 2019, the Office of the Vice-President and Provost appointed Susan Hill, director of the Centre of Indigenous Studies and a citizen of the Haudenosaunee (Wolf Clan/Mohawk Nation), as the Academic Advisor on Indigenous Curriculum and Education.
Develop opportunities for faculty, instructors, staff, and teaching assistants to learn about Indigenous issues. Create and fund a group, ideally made up of people of Indigenous heritage, to develop Indigenous curricula based in Indigenous knowledge and practices.
The OII offers three training sessions that discuss Indigenous allyship, reconciliation, and land acknowledgement for both staff and students. In 2019 and 2020, more than 2,700 U of T community members attended these training sessions. U of T has hired education developers focused on Indigenous pedagogies.
Expand offerings in Aboriginal languages, starting from local languages and expanding to provide a broader range of languages. Provide consistent funding for teaching Aboriginal languages and the Indigenous Language Initiative.
In 2017–2018, U of T provided courses on the Iroquoian language family and Anishinaabemowin. Currently, U of T’s Centre for Indigenous Studies (CIS) offers courses on Anishinaabemowin, Kanien’kéha, and Inuktitut. The CIS also includes Ciimaan/Kahuwe’yá/Quajaq, an Indigenous language initiative that facilitates language workshops, conferences, and activities for community members. The Varsity could not determine the levels of funding U of T dedicated to these courses and programs.
Develop research training modules that recognize the history of settlers conducting research unethically in Indigenous communities. Provide specific cultural and research ethics training to any scholars who aim to work in or with an Indigenous community.
In 2019, The University of Toronto Libraries hosted lectures on Indigenous research methodologies, ethics, and ways to support Indigenous researchers. That same year, The Vice President and Provost’s Office appointed Suzanne Stewart, an associate professor in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and member of the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, as the Academic Advisor on Indigenous Research. Her mandate includes advising faculty and students with interest in conducting research in Indigenous communities and developing best practices for conducting research that respects Indigenous peoples. The Indigenous Research Network also provides services to support any faculty, staff, and students who are engaged in Indigenous research, including events, training, and individual meetings.
Create a subcommittee of the Research Ethics Board focused on Indigenous-related research and tasked with developing a way to coordinate with Indigenous communities when the board reviews research proposals.
At the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Vice-President, Research and Innovation is in the process of establishing an Indigenous Research Ethics board that would include Indigenous faculty. This board will supplement the preexisting Decanal Advisory Committee on Indigenous Research, Teaching and Learning, which continues to advise the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on issues pertaining to Indigenous research.
Work with other universities to convene a committee discussing the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans and how it applies to research involving Indigenous peoples and communities.
In 2020–2021, Suzanne Stewart, Cathay Rournier, and the Indigenous Research Circle compiled a report consulting on Indigenous Research Ethics. Although this consultation did not include other universities, it suggested ways to adapt the Tri-Council Policy Statement based on a literature review and consultations with U of T and Indigenous community members.
Commission Indigenous authors to compile an accessible reference guide to Indigenous cultures and history, available to all U of T faculty, staff, and students through the internet.
The University of Toronto Library website includes multiple reference guides related to Indigenous peoples, including resources on the Indigenous history of Tkaronto, language resources, and Indigenous publishers and authors.
Consider creating a single, easily accessible Indigenous web portal where Indigenous students can access a variety of resources.
The Indigenous Gateway provides an overview of services, programs, and initiatives accessible to students across all three campuses.
Create a working group to investigate barriers for Indigenous students across undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs. Consider where the university might use admissions initiatives targeted at Indigenous people, particularly in graduate programs.
Although the university convened an Indigenous Students Working group before the release of the TRSC report, The Varsity could not find evidence that it has convened one since. However, multiple graduate programs have implemented specific pathways for Indigenous applicants, including the Faculty of Law and the MD program at the Temerty Faculty of Medicine.
Invest more to publicize and recruit to existing college pathway programs and targeted Indigenous access and bridging programs. These allow students who don’t meet admission requirements and who finished high school more than two years ago to gain entry to the Faculty of Arts and Sciences while earning credit toward their degree.
The Indigenous Studies website and Indigenous Gateway include information about the Transitional Year Programme and Academic Bridging Program. Applicants can contact the Recruitment Officer at First Nations House to discuss options for admission. The Varsity could not determine the amount of money U of T has invested in advertising these programs over time.
Ask the working group recommended in call to action 25 to examine issues related to Indigenous student housing.
The Varsity could not find evidence that the university created a working group to investigate access to student housing for Indigenous students.
Conduct a detailed study of how U of T might rework existing funding mechanisms to better support Indigenous students. Design a fundraising campaign where community members can donate to provide Indigenous students with scholarships and needs-based bursaries.
U of T offers multiple awards and bursaries aimed at Indigenous students, which can be found on the Indigenous Gateway website. The Faculty of Arts and Sciences allows individuals to donate specifically to the Indigenous Students’ Scholarship Fund.
With the input of Indigenous students, staff, and faculty, design an education module, available to all, that introduces students to Indigenous cultures, histories, and the relationship between Indigenous peoples and U of T.
U of T offers education modules as part of the Indigenous cultural competency toolkit, including self-directed modules created in collaboration with Indigenous leaders.
Design a sustainable mentoring program that connects first-year undergraduate Indigenous students with volunteer Indigenous faculty, staff, and students.
Some colleges and faculties, including Woodsworth College and Temerty, offer Indigenous-specific programs to connect incoming students with peers or faculty members. However, no U of T campus offers a campus-wide mentoring program specific to Indigenous students.
Administration should discuss how the university will fundraise to meet the calls to action in the TRSC report and consider creating an overarching Indigenous Reconciliation fund.
The Defy Gravity campaign advertised specific donation funds to support Indigenous curriculum, spaces, scholarships, and research. However, the university has not created an overarching Indigenous Reconciliation fund.
Consider creating an Indigenous Advisory Council, composed of members of Indigenous communities who are outside U of T, which would monitor U of T’s progress on implementing the Calls to Action.
Currently, the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, which does not include members external to the university, carries the responsibility of monitoring and driving U of T’s progress on the calls to action.
U of T should require all divisions to report to the provost each year, documenting the progress they’ve made in implementing the calls to action.
The Faculty of Arts and Sciences published an interim report in 2022 discussing the progress it has made toward the calls to action. The faculty also released similar reports in 2017 and 2021. However, The Varsity could not find evidence that other divisions reported their progress.
Every three years, a monitoring body should review the university and divisions’ progress on the calls to action.
The role of monitoring U of T’s progress on the calls to action falls on the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, which publishes a report annually on the university’s progress. According to Simpson, the OII is currently working on creating a dashboard to track U of T’s progress on each recommendation.
With files from Nawa Tahir.