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“Wrong side of history”: U of T criticized for involvement in Hawaiian telescope project

U of T faculty, students in solidarity with Native Hawaiian protests to protect sacred site

“Wrong side of history”: U of T criticized for involvement in Hawaiian telescope project

Protests in Hawaii against the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) on the Mauna Kea — a sacred mountain that Native Hawaiians, known as Kānaka Maoli, regard as their origin site — have made their way to U of T. The university is a member of the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), an organization that has funded the astronomy project.

U of T faculty and students criticized U of T’s involvement in the project, in solidarity with peaceful Kānaka Maoli protesters who have been occupying the site since construction began on July 15.

Astronomy’s rising star?

The TMT is a project over 10 years in the making, with the promise of enabling astronomers to look far into the past of stellar and galactic evolution. With an area nine times bigger than any existing visible-light telescope, the TMT is designed to identify images with unprecedented resolution, surpassing even the Hubble telescope.

The profound sensitivity of the TMT boasts the potential for observational data to answer questions about “first-light” objects, exoplanets, and black holes in the centre of galaxies.

This potential for furthering astronomy and astrophysics is what makes the TMT astronomy’s rising star.

Why is the TMT being protested?

In July 2009, the Board of Governors for the TMT chose the Mauna Kea as its location. Mauna Kea has long been an astronomical hotspot, serving as the location for 13 observatories. The TMT would be the 14th, standing as the biggest telescope on the mountain.

Mauna Kea is a sacred ancestral mountain, a place imbued with both natural and cultural resources. It is the location of many religious rituals conducted by the Kānaka Maoli, as well as a burial ground of sacred ancestors. Additionally, its ecological value is profound, housing esoteric ecosystems and providing water to the residents of Hawaii.

For these reasons, native kia’i (guardians) and kūpuna (elders) have resisted industrialization on Mauna Kea ever since the first telescope was built in 1968.

Subsequently, the TMT has attracted significant protests, serving as the Leviathan of telescopes. Dr. Uahikea Maile, Assistant Professor of Indigenous Politics at U of T, describes the TMT as a “unique beast” because of its size and location.

The project requires eight acres on the northern plateau of the mauna, which is currently untouched. Maile asserts that the corporation backing the TMT tempts the State of Hawaii into “valuing techno-scientific advances and alleged economic benefits over Native Hawaiian rights and the environment.”

Hence, ever since 2014, kia’i have attempted to halt the construction of the TMT by forming blockades at the base of the summit.

A brief space-time log of events

On July 10, Hawaiian Governor David Ige announced that construction of the TMT would begin on July 15, 2019. Five days later, hundreds of peaceful protestors stood together to form a blockade that would prevent construction crews from ascending Mauna Kea to begin constructing the TMT.

Located at an elevation of 6,000 feet, the blockade is logistically supported by the Pu‘uhonua o Pu‘uhuluhulu, a place of refuge providing resources and infrastructure to sustain all those involved in the blockade, wrote Maile. All people at the pu‘uhonua have access to free housing, food, health care, child care, and transportation.

Maile, who is of Kānaka Maoli descent, spent two and a half weeks at the protests. He recounted that the kia’i were “constantly prepared for the risk of police force and violence.” On the second day of protests, Governor Ige deployed the National Guard, militarizing the once peaceful site of protest.

On July 17, police arrived at the scene carrying riot batons, tear gas, guns, and a Long Range Acoustic Device, according to Maile. The elder kūpuna, many of whom were in their 70s or 80s, formed the central blockade, while they requested the kia’i to stand at the sides of the road.

Thirty-eight people were arrested at the scene, most of whom were kūpuna, but after hours of negotiations “a deal was struck and all police left.”

Numerous sources maintain that U of T’s statement on the Thirty Meter Telescope (artist’s depiction pictured) are not reflective of the views of all faculty members and students.
Courtesy of TMT Observatory Corporation

University of Toronto responds

U of T, a member of ACURA, is involved in the TMT. ACURA has served an advisory role in the estimated $1.5 to $2 billion project. Its members and other Canadian astronomers are planned to receive access to 15 per cent of the telescope’s viewing time.

It is important to note that U of T is not directly invested in the TMT. Nonetheless, Professor Vivek Goel, a board member of ACURA and Vice-President, Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives at U of T, published an official statement explaining that he has been “watching closely the recent events at the construction site.”

He continued by writing that U of T “does not condone the use of police force in furthering its research objectives,” and noted that the university’s commitment to truth and reconciliation impels it to consult with Indigenous communities.

Lack of consensus amongst faculty members

U of T’s official statement has received backlash from numerous sources who maintain that it is not reflective of the views of all faculty members and students.

For instance, Dr. Eve Tuck, an Associate Professor in the Department of Social Justice Education, has written three letters to U of T President Meric Gertler, criticizing the statement for not going far enough in taking action against the TMT.

In an email to The Varsity, Tuck wrote that while the university has no direct funding in the TMT, there are still ways to divest. “There is more than money that can and should be withdrawn in this situation, including support, endorsement, affiliation, reputational backing, approval, and advocacy for the project.”

She believes that it is imperative for U of T to prevent the TMT’s construction, and if it does not do so, it “is on the wrong side of history.”

Moreover, protesters of the TMT have found an unexpected ally in some astronomers who, perhaps counterintuitively, oppose the project. For instance, Dr. Hilding Neilson, an Assistant Professor at U of T’s Department of Astronomy & Astrophysics, wrote that “the statement from the university doesn’t say a whole lot.”

He specifically questioned the statement’s assumption that astronomy has a “moral right” to the mountain because it is a scientific field, which supposedly seeks to benefit the accumulation of knowledge for all of humanity.

Power to graduate students

An open letter authored by astrophysics graduate students at the TMT’s partner institutions reinforced this opposition from U of T astronomy professors. The letter, published online, called on the astronomy community to “denounce the criminalization of the protectors on Maunakea” and to remove the military and police presence from the summit.

Two signatories, Melissa de los Reyes and Sal Wanying Fu, wrote to The Varsity that it is “imperative for the astronomy community to denounce [the arrests of kūpuna] and take a stand against the further use of violence in the name of science.”

Reyes is a second-year graduate student at the California Institute of Technology, while Fu is an incoming graduate student at UC Berkeley. Both are National Science Foundation graduate fellows.

The open letter was published despite the risk that it could potentially impact the signatories’ research careers. The signatories include graduate students, postdoctoral researchers, and professors.

Signatories from U of T include professors Hilding Neilson and Renee Hlozek, Postdoctoral Fellow John Zanazzi, Sessional Instructor Dr. Kristin Cavoukian, PhD students Fergus Horrobin, Fang Xi Lin, Marine Lokken, Adiv Paradise, and Emily Tyhurst, and undergraduate students Yigit Ozcelik, Andrew Hardy, and Rica Cruz.

Jess Taylor, the Chair of CUPE 3902 and a writing instructor in the Engineering Communication Program at U of T, was also a signatory.

The signatories Reyes and Fu hope that the discussion prompted by the letter causes academic astronomers to “reckon with the ways in which social systems are inextricably linked with the way we do science.”

Neilson commended the bravery of its signatories, writing that “for students to come out and do this, potentially not only against their own research, but against their supervisors’ and departments’ requires standing up to power.”

Activism by undergraduate students

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and the Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) also published a joint statement on August 29 condemning the construction of the TMT at Mauna Kea.

The UTSU represents full-time undergraduate students at the St. George campus, while the ISSU’s membership includes students who are enrolled in the Indigenous Studies program or are taking at least one Indigenous Studies course.

The unions called upon U of T to “cease construction” of the telescope and to relocate it to an “area where its construction would not infringe upon the sacred land of Indigenous peoples or damage land that is environmentally protected.”

Eclipsing Indigenous knowledge

It is important to recognize that the Kānaka Maoli protests are not against science. Rather, they are against a Western ideology of economic development that — in the name of science and objectivity ­­— has historically propagated mechanisms of colonization, slavery, and incarceration. Following centuries of colonial and postcolonial development, the scientific industry today undermines and maligns Indigenous knowledge systems — associating it with primitivity.

Meanwhile, Neilson draws attention to the value of Indigenous knowledge, stating that “a lot of the tensions between Hawaiians and TMT come from the fact that a lot of us are ignorant of Hawaiian knowledge, and what it means for Mauna Kea to be sacred.”

Ultimately it is not a question about science versus culture, but about whether development under the guise of science reinforces a certain hierarchy of culture. It is evident that there is a need for a scientific Big Bang, one where Indigenous cultures is no longer at the bottom of this hierarchy.

Editor’s Note (September 9, 3:26 pm): The article has been updated to reflect that ACURA has funded the TMT, according to a 2013 ACURA report, but does not own a 15 per cent stake. Canadian contributions collectively have a 15 per cent share in the TMT project.

Decolonizing by the pen and tongue

Language representation in postsecondary education must prioritize Indigenous peoples

Decolonizing by the pen and tongue

Two weeks ago, public indignation followed the provincial government’s announcement that it would not be following through on plans to fund a French-language university.

Critics of this decision are understandably angered by the government’s lack of accountability towards the needs of the approximately 600,000 Franco-Ontarians, who would have been significantly empowered by an entirely Francophone educational institution.

However, if the core of the criticism is that linguistic groups should be adequately represented and empowered in postsecondary education, then the Francophone community is only one of many minorities in Ontario.

In fact, Francophones are outnumbered: over 600,000 Ontarians speak a Chinese language — such as Mandarin or Cantonese — as a mother tongue. There are also sizable Italian- and Punjabi-speaking communities. Yet there is no clamour to open postsecondary institutions based on these languages.

In reality, the necessity of upholding French as a unique language in Canada is grounded not as much in demographic representation as it is in a colonial mentality. French is thought to hold a rightful place in the nation because of the intertwined history of the language and the country.

But if we are upholding the integrality of French for historical reasons, then this justification should be extended to certain other communities, namely, those that speak one of the many Indigenous languages that have existed on this land for thousands of years.

These languages, more than any others, can be said to hold a rightful place on this land. It is interesting that there is no equivalent uproar for their representation in postsecondary institutions.

Ontario is home to a rich network of six Indigenous language families: Anishinaabek, Onkwehonwe, Mushkegowuk, Lunaape, Inuktitut, and Michif. These families include over 18 different languages and dialects.

The province has made efforts to revitalize and integrate these languages in the context of postsecondary education in the last decade. A key way is through the provincial funding of several Indigenous postsecondary institutes.

Ontario is home to nine Indigenous-owned and operated postsecondary institutions that offer programs in partnership with other colleges and universities. A year ago, legislation was passed that gave these institutes the ability to independently award degrees, certificates, and diplomas without negotiating with their non-Indigenous partner schools.

This legislation is undoubtedly a step in the right direction, in line with reconciliatory aims to grant the Indigenous peoples of Ontario further autonomy over their communities and affairs, as well as power and influence over the affairs of the country in general.

But these institutes have rather small circles of impact. Combined, the nine institutions offer programs to around 4,000 students. This number pales when compared to the over two million postsecondary students in Canada. U of T alone has over 90,000 enrolled students.

Indigenous language revitalization is a critical issue. Some of the key ways the violence of colonialism inflicts itself upon Indigenous peoples are the suppression and erasure of their ways of communicating, and the replacement of their languages with those of their colonizers — whether English or French. This process was facilitated through the residential school system.

Integration of these languages in education can be an important way of acknowledging the validity and necessity of Indigenous languages, to ensure that these languages continue to be learned and passed on to future generations.

Most of us are settlers in this country and benefit from colonialism by enjoying the use of the land and its resources. As such, we have an ethical obligation to support Indigenous peoples’ efforts to revitalize and sustain their cultures and ways of life. Language itself is a key site of power and control — and by making efforts to revitalize Indigenous languages, we can help empower these communities in a major way.

For education in Indigenous languages to have a wider influence and impact, larger colleges and universities ought to expand their curriculum to be more inclusive of them. Integrating Indigenous languages within an academic context would validate these languages as legitimate and important ways of communicating. Indigenous students would also have the ability to participate in their culture within these institutions.

Moreover, integrating these languages within educational institutions could help reverse some of the erasure wrought by residential schools — Indigenous students who were not brought up with knowledge of their communities’ languages would have opportunities to reclaim them. Non-Indigenous students would also have the opportunity to learn these languages, which would widen the scope of efforts to revitalize and sustain them.

Since 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s call for more programs in Indigenous languages has spurred attempts by universities to integrate these languages into their course offerings. But the selection is still sparse. The most exhaustive offerings are those from the smaller, Indigenous-run institutes, like Six Nations Polytechnic in southwest Ontario, which offers Bachelor of Arts degrees in Mohawk and Cayuga.

Other schools have been moving toward offering more courses in Indigenous languages. Queen’s University, McMaster University, and Lakehead University now all offer some courses in Indigenous languages. U of T’s Centre for Indigenous Studies offers courses in Inuktitut, Iroquoian, and Anishinaabemowin.

These selections have yet to compare to the exhaustive curriculums that these schools offer in languages like French. It can be argued that an expansive curriculum in Indigenous languages is of even greater importance, since there is no threat of French dying out. With Indigenous languages, that is a very real possibility.

As students, we can contribute to the revitalization of Indigenous languages on our own campuses. We have opportunities to take courses in an Indigenous language offered by U of T, and in that way we can make a concrete effort to spread and sustain the language.

Debates around French representation in postsecondary education illuminate that language is a locus of power and control. And while being mindful of the needs of Franco-Ontarians, we should be aware that the representation of Indigenous languages in our colleges and universities is of equal, or greater, importance.

Meera Ulysses is a second-year Equity Studies and Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations student at New College. She is The Varsity’s Current Affairs Columnist.

Decolonizing Art History

What do Kent Monkman’s paintings reveal about Canada’s history?

Decolonizing Art History

At first glance, the Winter Garden Theatre is gorgeous. There are hundreds of tiny lights dotted around the ceiling, interspersed with a thick foliage of colourful leaves and twisting vines that make up the underside of the only operating two-tiered Edwardian theatre in the world.

On the night of November 14, the theatre was packed with people eager to see Kent Monkman, renowned Cree painter and artist, and the mastermind behind the Shame and Prejudice: A Story of Resilience exhibition.

First showcased in the University of Toronto Art Museum for Canada 150, Shame and Prejudice was just a portion of Monkman’s prolific output, charting the trajectory of Canadian art history itself.

And that is what we had all gathered for: Monkman’s lecture, titled “Decolonizing Art History.”

Throughout the lecture, Monkman displayed an array of images from photographs to paintings, and sculpture to film stills and etchings. He began with several introductory images of the works of early settler-colonial painters, whose vast, lush paintings depict rich green forests and towering mountains that stretch into the distance.

Often the sun is shown bursting up from behind these mountains, denoting “biblical subjects transposed to North America,” as Monkman explained. The greenery and golden glow of the sun was not entirely at odds with the beautiful interior of the theatre — yet it was there that Monkman shattered the beauty of these early settler-colonial paintings.

The vast, gorgeous landscapes were barren of people, except for the European settlers who ‘discovered’ the land.

Many of Monkman’s earlier works were direct responses to these pieces, and inspired his transition from abstract to representational.

The first painting Monkman discussed was William Ranney’s “Boone’s First View of Kentucky,” which shows a sweeping skyline, with a small band of European settlers in the foreground, surveying the land before them. This use of nature as a vast empty space to conquer effectively painted over the very real Indigenous people who lived in these places before white settlers arrived.

Monkman admitted that he “rejected everything that [he] learned in college because [he] thought that representational artmaking was actually passé.” But he noted that it was upon learning more about celebrated early Canadian artists, such as George Catlin, that he became frustrated with the confining nature of his art. So, he turned to representational art.

Tracing Canada’s growth as a nation, his two-spirited identity, Miss Chief Share Eagle Testickle, sauntered her way through several of the paintings that Monkman deconstructed for the audience.

Miss Chief, as Monkman refers to her, is the iconic look for which Monkman is most well-known. Clothed in red, Miss Chief’s first appearance was in the painting “Artist and Model,” towering in platform heels and scantily clad in a fluttering pink loincloth and enormous, body-length feather headdress.

If you’re looking for an explanation, you’ll find one in her origin story, which Monkman promises can be read in his upcoming novel: The Memoirs of Miss Chief Eagle Testickle.

My first experience with Miss Chief and Monkman himself was through his short film, The Group of Seven Inches. A short black-and-white, the film opens with Miss Chief riding a horse to the McMichael Collection and dismounting beside the replica Tom Thompson shack. She enters the shack to find two white men with whom she proceeds to dress and fondle with a kind of reckless abandon that one can only have, apparently, in a log cabin outside of one of Ontario’s most beloved art collections.

Monkman proceeded to note that this was shot entirely on a weekend when the gallery was closed, although that did not prevent a family with young children from peering through the windows of the cabin to be pleasantly surprised.

Monkman does not invoke Miss Chief merely to draw humour from Canadian art history, though. Rather, Miss Chief is his way of critiquing the way that queer and Indigenous narratives were and are erased from Canadian history through the medium of painting.

In turning our eye toward the history that we have been taught, Monkman’s lecture and his career of decolonization through art causes us to think about the structures that we inhabit and their compliance in upholding history and 150 years of colonization — no matter how beautiful they may be.

Room for Indigenous engagement at UTSC

An interview with Indigenous Engagement Coordinator Juanita Muise

Room for Indigenous engagement at UTSC

“I love the position that I’m in because I get to share some of my culture and really help people connect and pass it down, pass it on,” said Juanita Muise.

Juanita is the Indigenous Engagement Coordinator, a new role at UTSC instituted in August. I met Juanita one early morning in the TV Lounge at the Student Centre to learn more about the role.

When asked to describe her job, Juanita explained, “The engagement part is [about] engaging with faculty, staff, students. Also, engaging with the Indigenous community outside our campus to build relationships and also… having a space for Indigenous students where they can connect with programming.” She added that the Indigenous Outreach Program “touches on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit… cultural events.”

“[The parents of] a lot of students that grew up in the urban setting… may not have gotten the cultural teachings because of what happened in the residential schools, or if their family moved off reserve… or they married outside of their culture, then a lot of them were not permitted to practice their culture.”

A significant part of Juanita’s role is to make it possible for those students to reconnect with their culture. And it’s working — she shared several anecdotes about students who’ve already benefited from the program. “This creates a safe space,” Juanita said, “where [students] can learn and grow and ask those questions and inspire everybody to learn and grow together, to create that community here on campus.”

Reconnecting with the past

Juanita had her own experience of reconnecting with her Indigenous identity. “I grew up in western Newfoundland and [was] non-status, so for most of my life until I was a young adult, we were not even acknowledged or recognized in my community.”

She explained that this was a consequence of Indigenous erasure. In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Indigenous community was all but extinguished, both physically and psychologically. Joey Smallwood, the first Premier of Newfoundland, claimed that there were no Indigenous people left in Newfoundland. In other words, this violent history is accompanied by a tradition of denial. Even today, Juanita said some Indigenous Newfoundlanders claim that “they’re mixed race, they’re not real,” instead of claiming their identity.

“I didn’t even identify because even in the school system, you’re treated differently if you’re native,” said Juanita. “In my small town, when I was 15, my uncle was a chief of the band… and he went and brought over from Nova Scotia some traditional teachers to teach us more about our culture. So, the Mi’kmaq people from Nova Scotia… came and were teaching some of the songs and the dance and some of the ceremonies… There’s been this huge revitalization.”

“When my uncle started doing this and more people started identifying as being native, my aunt started helping people find their roots and their history. People wanted to know, ‘Where do I come from,’ ‘Who am I?’ A lot more people started feeling like a part of them and it was okay now. It was okay. Someone was giving them the right to say it’s okay to be proud of where I come from.” She continued, “Because during that revitalization that sense of community that was lost started to grow. And that’s how it grows. Community grows by giving people a place where they can grow and flourish and learn.”

Juanita also explained how she reconnected with her Mi’kmaq roots after moving to Ontario. “I went to the Friendship Centre downtown and I really felt like it was open to everybody. There was one lady who was Mi’kmaq and she had a drumming group and I… felt a connection,” she shared.

Two themes that Juanita mentioned repeatedly throughout our conversation were community and knowledge. It was easy to tell that she’s passionate about both. When she spoke about community, her use of the word encompassed the UTSC community, the broader Scarborough community, and the Indigenous community.

Her studies, Indigenous perspectives, and tokenization

During her undergraduate studies, Juanita became aware of the need for discussing Indigenous issues and Indigenous perspectives.

She also emphasized that there can be many reasons why some students don’t identify as Indigenous. For example, there’s a risk of becoming “a token,” especially when there are few Indigenous students around. Students who openly identify as Indigenous are sometimes forced to act as cultural intermediaries, and answer many questions about Indigenous culture and related issues.

I asked Juanita if the Indigenous history of Canada was discussed in her courses when she was an undergrad.“No,” she said. “I [studied] social welfare and social development and they focused mainly on the social system that started out in the UK. So, they explored the history there, that system, and how other countries, as they were colonized, took on that approach. So, a lot of it was European and looking at European history and not so much Canadian.”

“So what I did in my undergrad, to really bring awareness, is a lot of research on Indigenous issues in Canada and Ontario on my own, because I wanted to bring that to the discussion. But not everybody is confident enough to do that. It was just, to me, like the professors weren’t doing it so someone needed to.”

I asked her what reaction she got.

“It was a lot of the typical reaction. If issues came out about reserves, like if there’s flooding or economic hardship, [people would ask,] ‘Why don’t they just leave that place?’” To Juanita, this is “not really understanding or wanting to understand the reasons with the history behind that and why it’s like that.”

I wondered how Juanita found the courage to speak up like that. “I come from a strong line of women in my family. You know, I had to act. For me, sitting back and just not saying anything is worse,” she told me, smiling. “[But] there [were] days when I felt like, ‘No, I just don’t have the energy to debate this today.’” She felt it was necessary to “always have to have the facts, make sure to back up everything.”

“That’s why I went into education after my undergrad,” she explained. “Even with so much reconciliation in the schools, often I find that our Elders and students are used as tokens, symbols.

“That’s why I’m planning to go in to do my PhD in education leadership and policy because I really want to be a part of that change. So, me, in this role, building those relationships… with faculty [and] students, that is sort of prepping myself for my PhD. This here is a stepping stone where I can actually have more influence over change.”

Issues on campus

I’m curious about how Juanita feels about land acknowledgment.

“Well, I think when it comes to acknowledging the land, a lot of people are not from here, so I think before we can acknowledge, we should let them know where they are and some of the history behind that, but we don’t do any of that,” she said. “The idea of acknowledging the land out of respect for the Indigenous people who have been here before us is nice, but at the same time, it’s often undervalued.”

“[If a land acknowledgment] is a script that people are told they have to read and they’re just ticking off that box, there’s no value in it.”

The importance of understanding why we do something and what’s behind it was another recurring theme during our talk. Juanita brought up different traditions of knowledge, and the value gaps between them. She talked about the school system in an Indigenous community in the north, where she worked before coming to UTSC. “More than half of their programming is on the land. So, they’re not just following the Ontario curriculum. They’re actually also learning from their Elders… and members of the community, and that took up a large chunk of their learning.” This included learning about medicines and trapping and how to harvest foods.

“This is learning,” Juanita explained, “but it’s just not valued in our education system.”

Then, “when they finish grade eight, a lot of these students still have to leave their communities… [and] everything they’re familiar with.” Moreover, Juanita describes how these students are also disadvantaged because during their primary school years, they have had less access to support and special education, as compared to other students in Ontario.

I asked Juanita what it was like to come to UTSC. “I see there’s a lot of opportunities here at this campus because this campus is still fairly young and there’s room to grow.”

Still, she’s anxious to see improvements for the Indigenous community on campus. Her main concern at this point is the lack of space for the UTSC Indigenous Elder, Wendy Phillips. Juanita is told that change takes time, but she feels that finding an office space for the campus Elder is something that should be fairly simple.

She’s also committed to building relationships with faculty and staff. She thinks it’s necessary that people in leadership roles show their commitment to reconciliation. “We have all these events and we have pretty much the same leadership that comes to events. If you’re really on board with this change, come and see where our needs are, speak with the Indigenous students.”

Again, Juanita is concerned with the meaning behind the words. Just like reading a land acknowledgment for the sake of ticking off a box, the same goes for the engagement with reconciliation and the presence of an Indigenous Elder on campus. “It’s great that [our programming is] making people come together and connect and learn and have those conversations that need to happen. But we still don’t have a space [for Wendy].”

Juanita’s concern with a space for the Indigenous Elder is also about having safe spaces for Indigenous students. “That’s what I’m fighting [for]. Hopefully by next year, we’ll have something in place. 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.”

“A lot of people don’t understand the value behind having a space, why creating a safe space for Indigenous students and non-Indigenous students to meet with an Elder, or for our feast. We feast to celebrate the seasons. We just don’t have that space to celebrate the feast.”

Looking to the future

Despite her concerns about a space for the campus Elder, Juanita is very enthusiastic about her job. “When I heard about this position in the south, I just jumped on it.”

“I really love every day,” she said. “I have a wonderful team that’s supportive… I love connecting with the students, building relationships with faculty and staff… I’m not really in the position to bring about a lot of change but I know that I am having an influence on a lot of people and so I feel good about that.”

“That’s another thing about our culture. Everybody has gifts and it’s just about nurturing those gifts that everybody has and to be able to share. It’s all about sharing,” Juanita said.

“Everyone can create their own bundles and be able to bring that in their life journey wherever they go.”

In Photos: The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation’s 32nd Annual Pow Wow

In Photos: The Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation’s 32nd Annual Pow Wow

Hosted by the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation, the Three Fires Homecoming Pow Wow and Traditional Gathering took place on August 25 and 26. For the 32nd time since 1987, the host nation welcomed families, friends, and guests to celebrate Indigenous culture, spirituality, and solidarity within their community.

I attended the Pow Wow on August 25 – as an immigrant, a student, and a guest on the land of the Mississaugas of the New Credit.

The theme of the Pow Wow was “Our Story: Water is Life.” Water is a sacred being within the spiritual and legal tradition of the Mississaugas of the New Credit; a fundamental tenet of human life.

Above the flurry of bright colours and the booming sound of drums, Pow Wow leaders urged guests to consider the value of mutual respect. Respect includes land and tradition; it includes respect for the privilege of being invited into a community. It also includes respect for oneself. Respect and care for one’s own body, spirit, and emotions is a prerequisite to caring for others.

When communities of all walks came together for the Pow Wow in August, the result was compassion, and that is something to celebrate.

 

 

New Indigenous College at U of T recommended by Faculty of Arts & Science commission

Space would be dedicated to Indigenous learning, suggested opening in 2030

New Indigenous College at U of T recommended by Faculty of Arts & Science commission

After a nearly two-year inquiry, a Faculty of Arts & Science (FAS) commission has formally recommended that the University of Toronto create and construct a new “Indigenous College with Residence Space.”

The announcement was made at a Massey College event on September 17 by co-chairs of the commission, Associate Professor Heidi Bohaker and Junior Fellow Audrey Rochette. They have been engaged in this commission, called the Decanal Working Group (DWG), since the summer of 2016, when it was created by FAS Dean David Cameron.

The college would also act as a physical monument, acknowledging that U of T has and continues to operate on the traditional lands of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River for thousands of years. In addition, it would provide a physical space for a community of students interested in Indigenous studies.

The college would accept both Indigenous and non-Indigenous students from at least the FAS and operate in a similar way to other U of T colleges.

It would maintain “residence spaces, a registrar service, faculty members drawn from different units, spaces for commuter services, and [spaces] for academic programs that are connected to the college,” said Bohaker.

However, what would be unique about this space is that it would also offer services designed specifically to support Indigenous students returning to continue their education. For instance, as Indigenous university students are “often mature students with families,” according to Rochette, the DWG has recommended the operation of a daycare service within the college.

The space would also provide medical and psychological services, contingent on a community partnership with Anishnawbe Health Services, a clinic near UTSG.

Traditional healers from the clinic would provide medical as well as spiritual services from an Indigenous cultural perspective.

According to Rochette, the partnership would ease the burden on the Elders in Residence who are currently providing spiritual services at U of T.

The need for support has also been felt by Indigenous professors, said Rochette, who have been “taking in the students who are going through other issues and trying to support them when they also have to produce their own academic work.”

The architecture of the college could possibly be inspired by the Akwe:kon residence hall at Cornell University, along with the First Nations Longhouse at the University of British Columbia, said Bohaker.

“We envision garden space, outdoor teaching and land-based pedagogy space, classroom space that envisions Indigenous pedagogies — no lecture halls with desks welded to the floor,” said Bohaker.

“Imagine learning in a circle, and how being in a circle changes how you relate to other people in the circle.”

The DWG has recommended for the college to be built at UTSG. Currently, there is no official statement by the Office of the President to commit to securing land for the project.

The Dean’s Advisory Circle is currently exploring cost estimates and funding sources. A timeline for completion of the analysis is not yet known, as the work of the recently-created group is “just getting underway,” according to the FAS communications office.

The DWG has recommended for the college to open in 2030.

Building on the TRC

A mission of the DWG was to explore how the FAS could implement recommendations from the 94 Calls to Action released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in December 2015.

From 2008–2015, the TRC documented the human rights abuses inflicted on Indigenous children throughout Canada’s colonial history at residential boarding schools they were mandated to attend.

The Calls to Action called on Canadian institutions to take specific actions steps to heal the damage done to the Indigenous people by these residential schools and colonialism.

Specifically, Call 65 advocated for the establishment of “national research program with multi-year funding to advance understanding of reconciliation” between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples of Canada. The DWG explored how U of T could answer Call 65, and that resulted in the DWG’s own Call to Action for U of T to create a new Indigenous college to centralize the university’s Indigenous studies research.

The DWG issued a Call to Action to create a “Dean’s Advisory Circle” to implement the recommendations of the Group’s report. Thus far, Professor Pamela Klassen, Vice-Dean Undergraduate, and Professor Susan Hill, Director of the Centre for Indigenous Studies, have been appointed as co-chairs.

In Photos: Canada 150 in the city

Toronto celebrates the occasion with events across the city

In Photos: Canada 150 in the city

July 1 marked 150 years since Canada’s confederation. This summer series focuses on events that explore this milestone while pondering the question: how did we get here?


On July 1, 2017, Canada turned 150 years old. The milestone was met with celebration, condemnation, and consideration from around the country. In Toronto, events both big and small were held in light of the occasion.

The Varsity explored the city with our cameras, attending a variety of Toronto’s Canada 150 events. (Click the photos to enlarge).

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We started the day by watching the Parade of Nations run down Yonge Street. The morning parade was organized by the Community Folk Art Council of Toronto and consisted of 25 different multicultural groups with nearly 2000 participants. Yonge Street was transformed into an international celebration; some highlights included a band from Serbia, beauty queens from the Philippines, and balloon flowers from a Vietnamese community group.

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Once the parade was finished, participants and viewers gathered in Yonge-Dundas Square to take photos, shop for Canadian merchandise at vendor booths, and hang out until an afternoon of musical performances began.

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The festivities at Queens Park began at 10 am with a citizenship ceremony where 150 people took the Oath of Citizenship, officially confirming their Canadian citizenship. The family-filled event included music performances, Canadian vendors, and activities for children. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne briefly spoke on stage, praising Canada’s multiculturalism and diversity.

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Up by 550 Bayview Avenue, Evergreen Brickworks hosted its weekly farmer’s market in addition to a holiday garden event series called Brewer’s Backyard.

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The Brewer’s Backyard celebrated Canada Day along with the 30th anniversary of Great Lakes Brewery, one of Toronto’s many craft breweries. The event spread festivity through affordable drink, healthy foods, and the natural beauty of the Koerner Gardens. The Brewery also showcased 19 different craft beers on tap, as well as the debut of the CanCon Session IPA, a new brew inspired by ACTRA Toronto.

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Plenty of people packed in Nathan Phillips Square to see musical performances and take photos by the ‘Toronto’ sign. Food trucks were lined up around the venue with people eating on any available grass they could find around the square.

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Nathan Phillips Square, though busy, was quite relaxed throughout the day; people and puppies alike were decked out in Canada Day gear, enjoying the scenery of City Hall.

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Spadina Museum was open to the public free of fare in celebration of Canada 150, hosting numerous visitors throughout the day. The garden behind the museum was packed with people celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Annual Toronto—St. Paul’s Canada Day Picnic organized by federal Indigenous and Northern Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett. The event acknowledged Canada’s 150th anniversary as a milestone to remind Canadians of the colonization of Indigenous peoples as well as the importance of reconciliation.

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There was a noticeable presence of resistance around the city. Signs were taped up around the downtown core objecting to the celebrations of Canada 150 on behalf of Indigenous peoples. At the Annual Toronto—St. Paul’s Canada Day Picnic, two people held a homemade sign that read, “Canada 150 is a celebration of colonial violence, genocide, & land theft.” Hashtags like #Unsettle150 and #Resistance150 made the rounds on picket signs and social media.

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Toronto’s Harbourfront was one of the busiest locations in the city throughout the day. A festival entitled Our Home on Native Land – which began on June 30 and continues until July 3 – occurred around the Harbourfront. The event was created to acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous and newcomer artists on Turtle Island and featured a variety of notable musicians, DJs, singers, and dancers.

Harbourfront also showcased family-specific activities. When we arrived we spotted children riding paddleboats and families enjoying picnics on the eastern end of the harbour. Plenty of visitors lined up to enjoy a culinary Canadian staple: Beaver Tales.

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One of the most popular – and controversial – parts of the Harbourfront was an unmissable six-storey giant rubber duck. The area around it was crowded with people vying for the perfect selfie with the yellow creature. Vendors packed themselves into the western-end of the harbour selling duck-related merchandise.

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The Beaches were filled with anticipation for the annual fireworks show that occurred at 10 pm. The massive aura of the fireworks saturated our lenses with vibrancy and colour. Inspired beach-goers lit the soaked dunes of Woodbine beach with their own fireworks, transforming tubes of paper into flares that covered the night landscape.

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We finished our day taking photos of the fireworks off the CN Tower. The streets around the tower were filled with people; tripods were angled up at the tower awaiting the show while families were camped out on the ground along Front Street and the Harbourfront. Once finished, the crowd cheered, cars honked, and the audience applauded the final show of the night.

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A commitment to reconciliation

Advocating for an Indigenous content requirement at U of T

A commitment to reconciliation

The curriculum of British Columbia’s grade 11 social studies classes involves learning about Canada’s past relations with Indigenous peoples. A large segment of this topic is dedicated to the discussion of residential schools and their impacts on Indigenous people in Canada.

I grew up in BC and I very much recall this section of the course: my teacher told my class that residential schools had all closed by the seventies. Knowing this to be false — as the last school closed in 1997 — I corrected him. Instead of acknowledging his mistake, he qualified his statement by saying, “All of the bad ones closed well before then.”

This statement implies there was such thing as a ‘good’ residential school, which is clearly not the case. All residential schools removed children from their families, communities, culture, and languages. Indigenous people who did not attend residential schools are experiencing the lasting intergenerational impacts of this system, including poverty, alcoholism, family breakdown, and systemic violence.

This statement also illustrates the lack of knowledge that many high school teachers have about Indigenous issues; these misrepresentations of the truth only serve to perpetuate stereotypes about Indigenous peoples.

[pullquote-features]A mere 13 per cent of elementary schools and 38 per cent of secondary schools consult with Indigenous communities — Indigenous peoples have little influence on the information being taught about their cultures. [/pullquote-features]

According to the 2016 People for Education Annual Report on Ontario’s Publicly Funded Schools, only 31 per cent of elementary schools and 53 per cent of secondary schools provide professional development opportunities for staff in the area of Indigenous cultural issues — just under half of secondary school teachers are not provided with up to date information to adequately instruct their students on these topics.

Additionally, only 29 per cent of elementary schools and 49 per cent of secondary schools bring in Indigenous guest speakers. A mere 13 per cent of elementary schools and 38 per cent of secondary schools consult with Indigenous communities — Indigenous peoples have little influence on the information taught about their cultures.

Given the lack of meaningful Indigenous education at the high school level, education on Indigenous issues should be incorporated into every student’s university education. Several Canadian universities have already implemented an Indigenous content requirement in order to make up for these gaps and to introduce international students to the problems faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. It is now time for the University of Toronto to do the same.

In January 2016, the university announced it would convene a committee to review the recommendations made by the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and that they would implement any recommendations found relevant to the university. Through this commitment, U of T demonstrates an interest in reconciling with Indigenous peoples. In following through with this interest, the university should feel an obligation to ensure that all of its students understand the realities of colonization, residential schools, and the impacts that have followed for Indigenous peoples.

Although not expressly laid out as a recommendation by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, implementing a mandatory Indigenous content requirement would ensure that all U of T undergraduates have such an understanding upon completion of their degree. Then, students would be able to bring this understanding forward to enlighten other members of the population on these issues.

Some of those opposed to such a requirement suggest that this information should be taught in high school. The reality is that the majority of high school teachers do not have the knowledge to accurately teach about Indigenous issues, if they teach about Indigenous issues at all.

Many people in opposition to a mandatory Indigenous content requirement have a problem with any mandatory courses at all, arguing that university is a paid educational experience and students should be able to take what interests them. Rather than requiring specific courses like many other institutions though, U of T breadth requirements ensure that students are well rounded while still able to maintain their freedom of choice with respect to course selection.

U of T can simply implement this requirement in a similar way to the University of Winnipeg, which incorporated a multitude of Indigenous studies courses from which students can choose. Indigenous content could be fused with program objectives, which would allow students to learn how these issues impact all fields and ensure all students graduate with knowledge of such issues. Indigenous students could be included in designing and facilitating courses, ensuring accuracy and giving them influence on what is taught.

[pullquote-features]By implementing an Indigenous content requirement, U of T has the potential to effectively address the marginalization faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada.[/pullquote-features]

At U of T, this requirement could easily be incorporated into the current breadth requirement system, by designating any courses providing sufficient information on Indigenous issues as a breadth category and including completion of a credit in this category as a graduation requirement. The university can also avoid increasing the number of breadth courses students must take by granting credit for the Indigenous requirement in addition to any breadth categories the course currently fulfills.

By implementing an Indigenous content requirement, U of T has the potential to effectively address the marginalization faced by Indigenous peoples in Canada. Prioritizing Indigenous content will empower students to understand their position in Indigenous matters and acknowledge any related privileges they may hold. It will also give Indigenous students the opportunity to see their culture embraced by the university, creating a more inclusive, engaging environment. This is an important step that the university should take, if it truly wants to commit to reconciliation.

Madeleine Freedman is a third-year Innis College student studying Canadian Studies.