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Office of Indigenous Initiatives releases first progress report

Report tracks progress of reconciliation, university announces new initiatives

Office of Indigenous Initiatives releases first progress report

The University of Toronto’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives (OII) has released its first progress report on the university’s advancements toward reconciliation, focusing on areas including institutional support for the Indigenous community, Indigenous curricula, and the hiring of Indigenous faculty and staff.

The report is meant to follow the advancement of the recommendations made by U of T’s Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee in their final report back in January 2017. It contained 34 calls to action for U of T in six major areas, including in Indigenous spaces and institutional leadership.

According to the OII’s director, Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, the university has made progress since the Truth and Reconciliation report was released, but he also acknowledged that there is still a long way to go. “Because this is a long-term process and commitment, we always knew things weren’t going to happen overnight. But we’re definitely moving in the right direction,” he told U of T News.

Hamilton-Diabo was previously the Director of Aboriginal Student Services at First Nations House, and was appointed as the first Director of Indigenous Initiatives by Vice-President & Provost Cheryl Regehr and Vice-President, Human Resources & Equity Kelly Hannah-Moffat shortly after the release of the Steering Committee’s report. The establishment of the OII followed shortly after, with a mandate to guide the U of T community in its efforts toward reconciliation, as well as advise on and oversee Indigenous initiatives across the university.

Among the innovations detailed in the progress report is the office of the Vice-President & Provost’s establishment of a university fund designated for the hiring of 20 new Indigenous faculty members and 20 new Indigenous staff members.

The university’s advancement division has also secured funding for institutions like the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, as well as new scholarships meant to provide financial assistance to Indigenous students, such as the Bennett Scholars program.

New Indigenous faculty members have been hired at all three of U of T’s campuses since the 2016–2017 school year.

The university’s different faculties have continued to develop Indigenous-related curriculum content. Of note, the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work recently launched a specialized Master in Social Work, Indigenous Trauma and Resiliency, and the university incorporated Indigenous knowledge and perspectives in 97 courses.

On the Indigenous student experience, the report states that recruiting and supporting Indigenous students is a priority for U of T. It highlighted events such as the Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU)’s annual Pow Wow, and the SOAR Indigenous Youth Gathering program, which the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education hosts over March break.

The report also notes the importance of promoting the creation and visibility of Indigenous spaces at U of T, which has been bolstered by the redesign of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute, as well as increased signage at the office of Indigenous Law Students’ Association at the Faculty of Law.

The progress report concludes with notes on challenges to reconciliation and next steps. Among the challenges noted by the OII is a lack of confidence in how to proceed, attributed to the general neglect of Canadian education on Indigenous history and culture, as well as limited time, resources, and persistently low levels of Indigenous faculty representation. According to the report, Indigenous consultation and participation, as well as the development of relationships, will be key in the progress of reconciliation at U of T.

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union hosts UTSC’s first Indigenous conference and traditional Pow Wow

“I’m really proud,” said UTSC Indigenous Elder Wendy Phillips

Scarborough Campus Students’ Union hosts UTSC’s first Indigenous conference and traditional Pow Wow

The Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) made history this year by hosting UTSC’s first-ever traditional Pow Wow and Indigenous conference, Indig-U-Know. Stretching from March 9–10, the event brought students, staff, and faculty together to learn more about the Indigenous community through stories, knowledge, and wisdom. The conference also featured panels, keynote lectures, and workshops.

A Pow Wow is an Indigenous celebration of culture through activities such as dancing, singing, eating, and buying and selling crafts. Non-Indigenous people are also welcome to attend.

UTSC’s Pow Wow took place on March 10 in the newly-built Highland Hall Event Centre, where Indigenous adults and children gathered in their regalia, ranging from colourful and patterned attire, to those decorated with fur and feathers, or adorned with beads.

Booths lined the walls of the centre, selling crafts, trinkets, and garments. Spotted around the venue were also various pieces of luggage packed with regalia, as some of the participants had come from as far as Alberta.

In the middle of the room was the drum circle, where musicians sang and played a big drum to accompany dancers.

The first dance before the Grand Entry was the Grass Dance. According to the event’s Master of Ceremonies Bob Goulais, the Grass Dance “resembles the beautiful, flowing grass that grows on the Great Plains” and blesses the grounds to make them ready for the other dancers.

At 1:00 pm, the audience rose for the Grand Entry, when celebrants, dancers, and dignitaries paraded and officially began the Pow Wow.

Some members of the SCSU helped carry flags during the parade, including President Nicole Brayiannis, Vice-President Campus Life Ankit Bahl, and Vice-President Academics & University Affairs Ayaan Abdulle.

UTSC’s Indigenous Elder, Wendy Phillips, spoke at the podium. She acknowledged the SCSU and thanked them for their work with the Pow Wow, adding that she hoped this event could be another way to reconciliation.

“I would just like to say how proud I am of [the SCSU],” said Phillips. “It was [SCSU’s] vision of supporting Indigenous communities… and this was one of the events that the SCSU wished to do for our community. I’m really proud.”

Wisdom Tettey, Vice-President and Principal of UTSC, also addressed participants. “On behalf of our university, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all of you,” said Tettey. “[This event hopes] to foster true reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples in our social structures.”

Following that, the Welcome Song was played by Young Spirit, a drum group made up of both Canadian and American members. Earlier this year, Young Spirit performed a Cree round dance song on the Grammy Awards red carpet in Los Angeles.

SCSU representatives, Dean of Student Affairs Desmond Pouyat, and Tettey also joined the Welcome Song dance performance.

According to Head Dancer Chop Waindubence, “This isn’t a ceremony, this is celebrating life.”

Bahl and Abdulle also spoke on behalf of the SCSU. “Indig-U-Know represents the student union’s commitment to continue to honour the first people’s land,” said Bahl. “We hope to be able to continue this tradition as we continue to fight for access to education.”

Indig-U-Know was carried out by the SCSU with assistance from Phillips, Indigenous and non-Indigenous staff, faculty, students, and student disability groups.

Hundreds attend third annual Pow Wow at UTSG

Indigenous Studies Students’ Union celebration included food, dance, vendors

Hundreds attend third annual Pow Wow at UTSG

The Indigenous Studies Students’ Union (ISSU) held its third annual Pow Wow at the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport on March 16. It was a stunning celebration of Indigenous cultures. The event was brought back in 2017 after a 20-year hiatus and featured food, vendors, and traditional dances that attendees were encouraged to join. 

The event started with a Grand Entry, in which participants carried flags representing the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people, as well as the flags of Canada, the United States, and U of T. This was followed by a march for military veterans, which any attending veterans were encouraged to participate in. 

In an interview with The Varsity, fourth-year Indigenous Studies and Equity Studies student Chantell Jackson emphasized the importance of these celebratory events. “Every year it needs to be done because it just brings knowledge of Indigenous culture and community to a place like U of T, where you don’t often see a lot of diversity,” Jackson said. “It definitely draws on the positive parts of Indigenous culture and community, and I think that’s what not only U of T students but the community as a whole need to learn.” 

Master of Ceremonies Bob Goulais stopped on two separate occasions to acknowledge the tragedy that occured in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, when 50 people were killed in shootings at two separate mosques in an apparent act of white supremacist terrorism. Goulais said that the Indigenous community stands in solidarity with the Muslim community during this time of mourning. 

Participating in Pow Wows is not something that Indigenous people were always able to do because of Canada’s settler-colonial system. In 1876, the Indian Act restricted participation in traditional Indigenous ceremonies and prevented Indigenous people from wearing traditional regalia. 

In 1921, Indian Affairs Minister Duncan Campbell Scott banned dancing on reserves, and Pow Wows only gained resurgence in North America starting in the 1960s with Indigenous rights movements. 

“It’s really important that we’re doing this, and covering all this music and dance,” Head Male Dancer and U of T professor Amos Key Jr. told The Varsity. “A lot of it just went underground; we didn’t do it publicly. That’s why I think it’s really important for us.”

“It’s healthy to move. It’s healthy for your heart and for your love of the heart; it’s all good,” Key told The Varsity. “I can’t imagine our people 100 years ago when we were dancing every night. That’s why they outlawed it, because the colonizers didn’t realize how important it was for health.” 

The recent Indian Day School settlement was brought up toward the end of the event to recognize Indigenous victories. In this settlement from the federal government, survivors of federally-run schools, many of which were established in northern Canada, received up to $200,000 as reparation for the abuse and neglect they experienced. 

Many of the attendees stressed the importance of these types of events in bringing awareness to Indigenous issues and bridging the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students. 

“I think these events are important because it shows that U of T cares about Indigenous students, and it shows Indigenous peoples that they can be a student here,” Head Female Dancer Myopin Cheechoo said in an interview with The Varsity. 

ISSU Membership Support Coordinator Ziigwen Mixemong spoke to The Varsity about the value that Indigenous celebrations have to her and the community as a whole. 

“To me, it’s just a place that I can really unapologetically [be] Indigenous at an institution such as U of T. A hundred years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to even walk on this campus, let alone be in full regalia and be at a Pow Wow… Being able to even just dance in it, even just organize it, is a tremendous honour that I have,” Mixemong said.

“I often think that people who come from mainstream society, who are settlers, often feel this tremendous amount of guilt over what has happened, and I always say that it’s not about the guilt. It’s about the fact that we have inherited this history, and what do we do with it now?”

What the Soar Youth Indigenous program adds to KPE

Annual program gives Indigenous youth a U of T experience

What the Soar Youth Indigenous program adds to KPE

To help increase enrolment and engagement with postsecondary education among Indigenous communities, the Faculty of Kinesiology & Physical Education initiated the Soar Indigenous Youth Gathering program. Soar, which was launched in 2009, is a week-long program held during March break that exposes a group of Indigenous youth to university life.

The program requires that applicants be Indigenous youth aged 14–17, residents of Ontario, and committed to participating in the full week of events. Participants stay at the Chelsea Hotel and may receive up to $400 for travel expenses. Information regarding Soar is communicated through postcards sent out to Indigenous communities, while coordinators visit local Indigenous events and communities in addition to sending emails to the Toronto District School Board.

“Each year, we introduce high school students to Indigenous role models — faculty and students — so they can see themselves in a few years coming to higher education,” Susan Lee, who manages co-curricular diversity and equity programs within the faculty, said to U of T News in 2017.

The program is meant to increase awareness of postsecondary education opportunities among Indigenous youth, as well as engage them in leadership opportunities. “It’s just opening up the doors for them to say, ‘here’s an opportunity for you,’” Lee added.

Soar offers an exciting opportunity for Indigenous students to gain an idea of what university life has to offer, and to bring together Indigenous youth with similar desires. By playing games, touring campus, attending workshops, and learning about the school’s many different programs, Indigenous students in the Soar program are made to feel welcome at U of T.

Programs such as Soar provide Indigenous students with a fun and exciting March break while also showing them that U of T is excited to have them. 

The individual must commit to reconciliation

On the importance of cultural competency and the Indigenous value of connectedness

The individual must commit to reconciliation

What reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples might look like on campus, and how it might be achieved, is no settled question. Last fall, for example, a Varsity editorial demanded that U of T move past words and conversation and “implement tangible changes” to make good on the university’s commitment to reconciliation.

Earlier this year, the Victoria University Students’ Administrative Council proposed to change the names of a residence building and Vic One stream named after Egerton Ryerson, who helped design the residential school system. Debate ensued about whether such a proposal was a first step toward meaningful reconciliation, a merely symbolic gesture, or an erasure of a dark history that we ought not to forget.

Whatever the case, it would be naïve to think that true reconciliation is just a matter of time. It is also insincere to put the onus of reconciliation onto governments even student governments — as others have suggested.
Amid all this debate, my view as a first-generation Canadian is that our attitude toward reconciliation should be inspired by the adage “be the change that you want to see in the world.” As individuals, we can and must be proactive and take the initiative to listen, learn, and understand the issues still confounding Canadian identity and society.

The sustained and pervasive societal ignorance toward Indigenous cultures and history remains one of the biggest challenges facing Canada’s attempt at reconciliation. It is what inspired John Croutch from U of T’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives to begin delivering day-long cultural competency training workshops to the university community.

In an interview with U of T News, Croutch noted that the purpose of the initiative is for each one of us to learn the truth about settler-Canada’s relationship to its Indigenous populations. In doing so, it hopes to reshape attitudes and institutions that continue to marginalize them. Opening ourselves to a diversity of perspectives, as any Torontonian knows, only enriches us as a society.

Croutch was alarmed by people’s limited understanding of Indigenous communities. In another interview with U of T’s Office of Indigenous Medical Education, he shared his experience with medical and health care professionals to show how this ignorance extends to even the so-called educated and skilled workers of society.

For this reason, it is important that the university support, encourage, and promote such cultural competency trainings. They are freely available to all members of the U of T community and can accommodate student groups. Through such training, individuals can take a proactive approach to learning about, listening to, and understanding Indigenous communities.

I can relate to this approach because of a personal experience that helped me appreciate just how delicate the issue of reconciliation is. Last summer, I had the privilege to attend a Master Naturalist course offered by Lakehead University in Thunder Bay. I learned about plants, insects, geology, ecology, and the natural history of Northern Ontario.

At the end of the course, representatives of the Fort Williams First Nation shared their perspectives and knowledge about these issues. Interested in learning from other cultures, I asked them to share something from their culture, which, if everyone were to learn, would help to make the world a better place.

They gave me an answer that I had never heard before: the importance of connections. They explained that Indigenous cultures are deeply connected and rooted to this land. For example, when you see a mining operation, it should not only be understood as a consumption of natural resources that may serve our materialistic needs, but as a severance of Indigenous peoples’ cultural connection with the land.

Upon completion of the course, our instructor, Bob Bowles, gave us a parting gift: a reusable straw to replace the single-use plastic straws that pollute the environment. I realize now that understanding the environment through the lens of connections is crucial. We all depend on each other and the land. Our survival, as people affected by environmental changes, is connected to the survival of Indigenous peoples and cultures.

For reconciliation on the individual level, whether as new or long-time Canadians, we should honour and recognize the thousands of years that this land has supported human life and cultural flourishing. Indigenous cultures are not just another piece of the greater mosaic of Canadian society and identity. Rather, they are more importantly the glue that connects all the other pieces to this land underneath our feet and from which we subsist. Canada will only truly flourish when we recognize this connection.

Oscar Starschild is a second-year Mathematics, Philosophy, and Computer Science student at Woodsworth College.

A look at the Master of Public Health in Indigenous Health

The program aims to educate students on Indigenous health with focuses on traditional knowledge and medicine

A look at the Master of Public Health in Indigenous Health

This is the inaugural year for the two-year Master of Public Health: Indigenous Health program at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health through the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health.

Dr. Suzanne Stewart, Associate Professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and Director of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute, designed the program alongside Dr. Angela Mashford-Pringle, Assistant Professor at Dalla Lana and Associate Director of the institute. The program was created with the objective of “[offering] a program based in Indigenous knowledges that’s guided by our traditional knowledge keepers, our elders, our healers, our teachers.”

The involvement of knowledge keepers, she says, reinforces the importance of traditional knowledge, which “is at the core of Indigenous health.”

Stewart explains that increasing the number of researchers and professionals in Indigenous health was one reason for the creation of the program. Another was to increase the number of Indigenous people who can, thanks to programs like these, access education in fields like health care while feeling culturally safe.

“I think the objective of the program, overall, is to create a training program that ensures that everyone who’s a part of that program is a part of the solution,” says Stewart.

The Indigenous population is the fastest growing demographic in Canada. An improvement in this community’s health can lead to higher levels of youth employment and education and increase the overall life expectancy of Canadians, says Stewart.

Due to the poor state of Indigenous health care, Stewart says that “we need to have people who are trained and capable of actually addressing these problems.”

The program includes courses on general public health, quantitative research, and social determinants of health, as well as specific courses such as Indigenous Health, Indigenous Health and Social Policy, and Indigenous Food Systems, Environment & Health.

At the end of their first year, students must complete a practicum over the summer. The practicums are in collaboration with Indigenous communities and all levels of government nationwide, in areas such as policy, program development, and research.

Stewart says the practicum “gives students an opportunity to actually spend time in Indigenous communities, working with Indigenous people, and being able to learn what it’s like to be there and do this work from a cultural perspective.”

Traditional knowledge is localized, explains Stewart, as is healing and its interpretation, which can vary depending on the communities from which elders and teachers originate.

“Indigenous healing and spirituality and pedagogy are not objective,” says Stewart. By learning about traditional Indigenous knowledge, there is a departure from linear thinking. Through this, students learn about the interconnectedness of mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health.

Stewart notes that the spiritual aspect is important, but usually not incorporated in Western health care programs, including policy.

Stewart hopes that students learn “how to be the person that they’re supposed to be and that they continue to contribute to the solutions and stop being part of the problems.”

Speaking of the first year’s cohort, Stewart says that she is delighted. The students, she explains, are dedicated, open to learning, and committed to the work. Furthermore, she notes that specialized programs are unique because there is something that drives the students to be passionate about the issue. 

The existence of this program, and others like it, can aid in the process of decolonization.

Stewart explains that “all healing for us as Indigenous people begins with the spiritual, and all healing is spiritual. And for us to want to heal the system, we need to do that in a basis of traditional knowledge and spirituality, and that’s really what this program is about.”

A glance at the state of Indigenous health

Professors of public health shed light on generational barriers Indigenous people face in accessing health care

A glance at the state of Indigenous health

Though the number of studies are scarce, there emerges a consistent and worrying pattern on the status of Indigenous health.

A Statistics Canada study spanning 2011–2014 found that whereas around 60 per cent of the non-Indigenous population perceived their health as good or excellent, only 48.5, 51.3, and 44.9 per cent of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people respectively reported their health as such.

Life expectancy is also lower for members of Canada’s Indigenous population, with an average life expectancy of 68.9 for Indigenous men and 76.6 for Indigenous women, compared to 78 among non-Indigenous men and 81 for non-Indigenous women. The cause of this can be attributed to a number of compounding issues, some of which are not immediately related to health care. 

Racism and discrimination against Indigenous people in the medical system are a big factor in preventing them from accessing and returning for continual services, explains Dr. Suzanne Stewart, Director of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health.

Stewart says that the issue regarding Indigenous access to health services is “about actually being able to go into a health care environment and feel like it’s safe to be there mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”

This is made more difficult by the legacy of the residential school system, funded by the government, which forcibly removed Indigenous children from their communities to undergo aggressive assimilation. From the nineteenth century to 1996, an estimated 6,000 children died in the system out of the 150,000 forced to attend.

Children were underfed and malnourished. One residential school experimented with feeding children just a flour mixture. This systemic malnutrition caused by residential schools has been linked to health issues such as diabetes.

Even today, biases remain in the system, says Dr. Anna Banerji, Associate Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. “I’ve witnessed it first hand,” she said.

Banerji has been researching Indigenous health for 25 years, travelling to the Arctic over 30 times to study respiratory infections in Inuit people.

Banerji discovered that Inuit babies are more frequently infected by respiratory syncytial virus than the wider Canadian population. But, Banerji says, “there’s an antibody that’s cheaper than the cost of admission [to a hospital] and no one is implementing that [in Inuit communities].”

South of the Arctic, Cat Lake First Nation recently made headlines due to a housing crisis that developed into a health crisis. Almost 100 houses in the fly-in community contained black mould, which caused rashes and bacterial infections, including lung infections.

Stewart explains that current health issues in Indigenous communities were “created by the systemic factors of all colonization,” which in turn “created a group of people who are highly traumatized and who have no resources to cope within that very system that created the trauma,” leading to crisis.

Furthermore, Stewart says that resources tend to assist in the immediate aftermath of crises, but not to sustainable preventions of them, such as research and programs so that issues like addiction do not escalate into crises.

Traditional medicine and knowledge are ways by which Indigenous people can heal.

Dr. Angela Mashford-Pringle, Assistant Professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and Associate Director of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, also stressed the barriers to the Cree notion of “pimatisiwin,” which is a traditional conception of “a good way of life.”

“We can’t live that way because we have too many systems pushing down on us,” says Mashford-Pringle.

Stewart says that traditional healing and medicines are rather inaccessible and it is up to individuals to seek them out, despite the fact that Indigenous health is included in treaty rights.

Mashford-Pringle works with Cancer Care Ontario, which offers courses in cultural competency to inform health care providers about Indigenous history and knowledge.

Stewart echoes the need for courses, saying, “We haven’t done anything that’s more meaningful such as [to] require our staff and our health care workers to undergo cultural safety training, to collaborate with Indigenous communities, to provide culturally-based services, provide access to traditional medicines and traditional healing.” She says that this “would bring meaningful change to health equity and health access for Indigenous people.”

“Why is it okay for them and not for me?” asks Banerji. She notes a disparity in acceptance and that “what is accepted for Indigenous children would not be accepted for non-Indigenous children.”

Stewart says that it is essential for non-Indigenous people to understand the ways they have benefitted from the harm done to Indigenous people, including through health care accessibility.

“Spend five minutes and learn about Indigenous people,” says Mashford-Pringle, adding, “Don’t stand in our way, even if the only thing you ever do is stand aside so that we can push for our right, that’s better than standing in our way and making it [worse].”

Indigenous employment at U of T

Examining Indigenous recruitment, supports, challenges

Indigenous employment at U of T

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.”