A closer look at U of T’s policy on the repatriation of Indigenous human remains

Reviewing the history, policy of returning Indigenous belongings

A closer look at U of T’s policy on the repatriation of Indigenous human remains

According to a 2017 Aboriginal Peoples Television Network investigation, U of T is in possession of bone fragments belonging to 550 Indigenous people. These remains are being held in museums across the world in addition to here at U of T. Recently, the Liberal Party platform promised to work with Indigenous peoples in order to create a framework for returning stolen artifacts and ancestral remains to their communities — calling into question how U of T may operate on repatriation moving forward.

U of T itself occupies land historically belonging to the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and the Mississaugas of the Credit River, territory subject to the Dish With One Spoon treaty, which was a treaty between the Anishinaabe, Mississaugas, and Haudenosaunee to share the land.

The excavation of human remains was unregulated in Ontario until 1975. In the decades prior, numerous site excavations, including those of human burial grounds, resulted in U of T’s Department of Anthropology becoming the repository of Indigenous, as well as European settler, skeletal remains.

In 1999, the Department of Anthropology released its policy on repatriation, which underscored the need to treat human remains with respect, vowed cooperation with the involved parties in their repatriation efforts, and outlined the process by which human remains and artifacts can be returned.

This process includes a review by “a committee consisting of a minimum of two representatives from the Department of Anthropology and a representative of First Nations communities” in order to ensure the request is genuine and there are no competing claims. The committee’s report is then forwarded to the chair of the department for approval.

In November 2018, Rainy Rivers First Nation repatriated over 40 of their ancestors’ remains and 5,000 artifacts that had been taken and stored at the Royal Ontario Museum.

According to Chief Robin McGinnis, the repatriation process was lengthy because Rainy Rivers First Nations wanted to catalogue all items prior to their return. However, McGinnis told The Varsity that when the “funeral ceremonies [took place] and they get put in their final resting place… where they belonged… there’s a big sense of relief now.”

Kayleigh Speirs is the administration manager at Kay-Nah-Chi-Wah-Nung Historical Centre and worked alongside Rainy Rivers First Nations during the repatriation process. Both Speirs and McGinnis agree that Indigenous peoples should lead repatriation decision-making and that more effort needs to be made by institutions to inform communities when they are in possession of their ancestral remains and artefacts. Speirs said this burden should not be left on the communities.

In 2013, over 1,700 Huron-Wendat Nation ancestral remains were reburied after a lawyer for the nation at the time, David Donnelly, happened upon the information that they had been stored in the basement of Sidney Smith Hall.

The Department of Anthropology then began collaborating with the Huron-Wendat Nation to analyze the ancestral remains in order to gather information about the lives of the deceased prior to their reburial.

U of T’s repatriation policy reserves the right for the department “to conduct a thorough inventory and scholarly documentation… for the purposes of scientific inquiry and heritage preservation” before the release of any objects or remains.

As far as performing research on Indigenous remains, Donnelly believes that it is only acceptable when consent is received from the descendants, as was the case with the Huron-Wendat repatriation. Otherwise, the university is working with stolen property, Donnelly said.

With regard to a national framework on repatriation promised by the Liberal government, Donnelly believes funding for Indigenous groups to access lawyers and experts is imperative. Donnelly explained “for any First Nation to engage with an academic institution or a government around a problem not of their making, if you don’t provide them funding so they can hire experts, you’re really robbing them a second time.”

In response to questions as to whether the university would review its policy in light of the Liberal Party’s promises for a national repatriation framework, a spokesperson for the university wrote in an email to The Varsity that “The University feels strongly about the responsibility to ensure repatriation is conducted in a sensitive manner in close collaboration with Indigenous groups.” The spokesperson explained that “the University periodically reviews its policies and guidelines.”

They also noted that “formal requests for repatriation may come from family members or their descendants, or from recognized Indigenous groups.”

UTSG: Roundtable: Land and Indigenous Leadership

Join us in welcoming Filiberto Penados, Salina Suri and Amber James to our roundtable discussion on Land and Indigenous Leadership.

Attendance is free and refreshments will be served. Ramp and elevator access along North side of the building.

The Fall Forum on Indigenous-Settler Relations brings together:
• Local Indigenous knowledge-bearers
• University of Toronto students who have completed Queen Elizabeth Scholarship internships
on Indigenous-Settler Relations in Australia, New Zealand or Belize or are in the midst of
other research on Indigenous issues
• Interested members of the community to discuss issues related to the development of right
relations between Indigenous and settler communities.

Our Guest: Dr. Filiberto Penados, from the village of San Jose Succotz, Cayo, Belize, is an internationally recognized
Indigenous Studies and education scholar and community activist. Holding a Ph.D. in education studies from
the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, he is the founder of the Tumul K’in Centre of Learning, a Belizean
non-profit agency that promotes the development of intercultural education and the integration of Indigenous
knowledge into the curriculum.

U of T hires two Indigenous academic advisors in response to TRC

Breaking down the university’s path toward reconciliation

U of T hires two Indigenous academic advisors in response to TRC

In an attempt to further integrate Indigenous perspectives of education and research in accordance with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommendations and its own TRC Steering Committee report, U of T appointed two advisors on Indigenous research and curriculum: Professor Suzanne Stewart and Professor Susan Hill.

In 2015, the TRC released its final report, which documented the history and intergenerational impact of the residential school system on Indigenous children and families. It described Canada’s assimilation policy — at the heart of which was the residential school system — as “cultural genocide.”

Education remains central to the disadvantages faced by Indigenous people. Indigenous youth face systemic barriers in accessing education, including at the postsecondary level, relative to non-Indigenous youth. In response, the TRC dedicated four out of 94 calls to action specifically to postsecondary institutions.

The new advisors

Stewart, a member of the Yellowknife Dene First Nation, has been a faculty member at U of T since 2007. She is now the director of the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health and an Academic Advisor on Indigenous Research.

Her new role will have her focusing on how researchers should go about working with Indigenous communities, in part by developing documents that provide guidance and best practices on how to conduct research respectfully within them. Stewart will also serve as a guiding hand for those who are interested in conducting collaborative research with Indigenous communities. 

Hill began her U of T career in July 2017 and holds a joint appointment in the Department of History and the Centre for Indigenous Studies. She is a member of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy — specifically the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation.

Her position as academic advisor of Indigenous curricula and education has her focusing on designing and redesigning curricula, developing collaborative teaching opportunities in Indigenous Studies, and establishing a database of Indigenous content and educational materials.

In response to these new appointments, Cheryl Regehr, U of T’s vice-president and provost, said to U of T News: “I am looking forward to working closely with Susan Hill and Suzanne Stewart to further the university’s commitment to U of T’s Calls to Action.”

“Their expertise will be invaluable in ensuring the university is moving forward on the most respectful path towards truth and reconciliation.”

In recent years, U of T has made steps to create Indigenous-focused initiatives: including the Deepening Knowledge Project at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, the Indigenous Education Network founded by Indigenous students, and the TRC Implementation Committee at the Faculty of Law. In addition, a handful of master’s programs at the university have committed to integrating Indigenous education, such as the Masters in Social Work, Indigenous Trauma and Resiliency and the Masters of Public Health in Indigenous Health.

In conversation with Professor Suzanne Stewart

In an interview with The Varsity, Stewart reported having faced systematic and personal racism in Canada, including in postsecondary institutions. However, Stewart believes that due to the TRC, some positive changes in the education system are occurring — such as conversations about increasing Indigenous student support and funding.
Indigenous students still face racism, oppression, and barriers to higher education. While 63 per cent of non-Indigenous people have a post secondary diploma, that number drops to 44 per cent for Indigenous people. Stewart sees self-determination and racism as the chief issues for the Indigenous community.

Stewart suggests that the university should create “a system of special package funds” to break financial barriers for students who identify as Indigenous. In addition, she believes that people across the country “need to be more aware of Indigenous history and the privileges non-Indigenous people have in Canada.”

Reflecting on U of T and reconciliation

Another new Indigenous faculty member at U of T is Professor Heather Dorries. She holds a joint appointment in the Department of Geography and Planning and the Centre for Indigenous Studies, and is Anishinaabe. In an interview with The Varsity, Dorries admitted that when she was a student at McGill University, she felt that Indigenous education was not “something that the administration really ever put any energy into,” but now she is seeing positive changes in the general attitude toward it in the university setting.

Dorries firmly believes that the university can benefit greatly from Indigenous knowledge: for instance, the traditional Indigenous understanding of the environment can be valuable in the field of geography. She also acknowledged the pressures and stress constantly faced by students and suggested that Indigenous perspectives may be helpful in considering different perspectives on life and dealing with challenges.

In the future, Dorries hopes to see universities as “a place of empowerment for everyone, where we create and disseminate knowledge [and] educate ourselves in ways that help us to understand how we can support the flourishing of life.” She concludes that post secondary institutions will have to reconsider their priorities in order for reconciliation to happen.

According to Dorries, continuous student involvement is key to successful incorporation of Indigenous knowledge. If the university sees a demand for courses in Indigenous Studies, or other “events” relating to Indigenous education, the university will try to respond to that demand. In her previous position, she noticed that student action was the driving force behind the university’s initiatives towards reconciliation.

“Students shouldn’t underestimate the influence that they can have on the institution.”

UTSG: The Blanket Exercise

Want to stand in solidarity with Canada’s Indigenous Peoples? The Blanket Exercise is an interactive learning experience that teaches the Indigenous rights history we were rarely taught. **PLEASE REGISTER by emailing your RSVP to multi.faith@utoronto.ca

In support of the University of Toronto‘s commitment to live into the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s recommendation for education on Canadian-Indigenous History as one of the steps to reconciliation, the Blanket Exercise covers 500 years of history in a one and a half hour workshop. Located in the East Common Room at Hart House. Please join us!

Stay posted on Multi-Faith Centre events by joining their Facebook Group: http://facebook.com/groups/multifaithuoft #UofT

U of T’s weak response to the protests on construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope is unacceptable

The university’s commitment to reconciliation must reach beyond our borders

U of T’s weak response to the protests on construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope is unacceptable

2019 marks the fifth year of protests against the construction of an astronomical telescope atop Mauna Kea in Hawaii. The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) is projected to be the largest visible-light telescope ever built. The Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA), which includes the University of Toronto, has been a partner in its construction.

In Native Hawaiian tradition, Mauna Kea is deeply revered as a place of worship. Protesters are hoping to protect the site, which already houses 13 other observatories.

U of T’s response to the ongoing protest has been weak. In a public statement, the university noted its responsibility toward consulting Indigenous communities and condemned the usage of police force against the protesters. Yet it did not explicitly denounce ACURA’s support for the construction of the telescope, nor otherwise explain its position.

The university’s continuing indecisiveness on the matter has a number of distasteful implications for its reputation. Firstly, it betrays a willingness to stand by and wait for another body to resolve the issue. This shirking of responsibility, which fails to consider dissenting voices, is unacceptable.

Moreover, with the telescope already funded and construction efforts ongoing, the university’s inaction silently goes along with the push to build on sacred ground. This is controversial at best, and outright oppressive at worst. Such a stance is an affront to the rights of Indigenous students and faculty who have historically been mistreated by academic institutions. Their voices, too, remain unrepresented.

However, regarding reconciliation, the university seems to be taking some steps in the right direction. In January 2017, it welcomed the Final Report of the Steering Committee for the U of T Response to the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada. The report called upon the university to reflect on its role in reconciling with Indigenous peoples and to create a welcoming environment for incoming Indigenous students. A ceremony was held at Hart House to mark its publication.

But even after this commemorative moment, the university continues to support the destruction of sacred ground abroad. This is paradoxical.

The university’s actions directly oppose the values professed in the Steering Committee report. We cannot expect our Indigenous students to believe in the administration’s promises when it breaks the same ones internationally.

Of course, the university and ACURA do have their reasons to maintain their support for the construction of the telescope. The TMT would be an invaluable resource for astronomers and astrophysicists, and its location on Mauna Kea is optimal. The debate appears to lie between the scientific hunt for knowledge and the moral protection of Indigenous rights.

The issue, however, is not such a simple dichotomy. Even from a strictly scientific perspective, constructing the telescope bears certain risks. The power of the TMT comes from its size, and its construction would require the destruction of a large swath of land. With it comes the loss of a unique ecosystem at a time when the study of biodiversity and its role in combating the climate crisis has never been more crucial.

Moreover, like any institute of higher education, U of T must aim to promote scientific education and to inspire future scientists. But justifying the erosion of cultural respect and Indigenous rights in the name of science only tarnishes the name of scientific study. This is unacceptable.

Furthermore, Mauna Kea is not the only possible location for the TMT. Excellent alternatives exist in Spain and Baja, California, and construction there would come at a minor cost to the telescope’s performance. So it seems that we have drawn out a five-year protest for the sake of a small improvement in efficiency.

We have made science a veritable antagonist. This is not how we should perceive the pursuit of knowledge.

Science should not be a brutally objective study that seeks knowledge without regard for basic rights. Science, ultimately, is humanitarian: the knowledge we gain is the knowledge that serves to enlighten us all. We cannot claim to serve the whole of humanity by casting a part of it to the side.

When our search for knowledge is forcibly pitted against the rights of others, every student is affected. Every student is wronged.

Consider the prestige of the University of Toronto, which is ranked by Times Higher Education as the top university in Canada and the 18th worldwide. Educational and scientific institutes, here and across the world, may very well be influenced by U of T’s actions, and its students and scholars can carry the biases of the university into the workforce and beyond.

It is reasonable, then, to ask the university what values it wishes to convey to its students, the nation, and the world. In its own mission statement, the University of Toronto declares its dedication to “vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice.”

Let us hope that the university will restore its faltering commitment.

James Yuan is a first-year Life Sciences student at Victoria College.

To preserve Indigenous languages, U of T must do better

Academic institutions must expand Indigenous language-learning opportunities in the face of endangerment and extinction

To preserve Indigenous languages,  U of T must do better

Over 188 years have passed since the first residential schools were established in Canada. Residential schools, a part of government- and church-sponsored policy, were built to undermine Indigenous identity in favor of the dominant white settler society. The repercussions of these schools are still felt by Indigenous people to this day. The intergenerational trauma of residential schooling remains a significant factor in the decline of Indigenous languages, as well as the health and well-being of Indigenous communities.

Indigenous language is integral to the preservation of culture and nationhood. As a result of residential schooling, Indigenous communities were left unable to safeguard their own languages and cultural identities. In fact, beyond the plethora of literature surrounding the psychological, physiological, and sociological implications that have taken hold, it is not uncommon to hear that those who have endured such practices still carry the burden — refusing to teach their children due to fear that they might endure a similar experience.

Until 1996, when the last residential school closed its doors in Punnichy, Saskatchewan, residential schools remained at the epicentre of the isolation, punishment, and assimilation into Euro-Canadian culture that the federal government imposed on Indigenous children.

Inside such schools, children — under the guise of educational policy — were removed from their communities and families and dissuaded from using their language and practising their culture. Furthermore, many of the more than 150,000 school children in residential schools were subjected to sexual, physical, and emotional abuse.

According to a 2016 Canadian census, there are over 260,050 Indigenous language speakers in Canada — less than one per cent of the entire Canadian population. Further, there are reportedly over 70 distinct living Indigenous languages spoken in Canada according to the same census. Yet, only 15.6 per cent of Indigenous people can conduct a conversation in an Indigenous language, a drop from the 2006 census.

Language is at the root of culture and history. However, for Bonnie J. Maracle, Wolf Clan member of the Mohawk people and Professor of Language Revitalization at U of T, language is much more than that. “Language is our help, our unity, our strength,” she claimed.

For Indigenous people like Maracle, there is a clear unifying connection between language and the spiritual and natural environment around us. “Language is this healing and wellness,” Maracle said. “A whole generation of people had no language and culture, all as a result of residential schools… language has been holding on by a thread [ever since].”

This is not a problem unique to Canada. Indigenous languages and cultures are currently at risk of disappearing in all corners of the world.

This summer, three undergraduate students travelled to the city of Boa Vista, Brazil, as part of U of T’s Research Excursion Projects (REPs). With guidance from Suzi Lima, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, the students were able to study several Indigenous languages in the region, including Macuxi, Ye’kwana, and Taurepang, alongside locals in order to further preservation efforts.

On the importance of their work in Brazil, Gregory Antono, a former Linguistics and Spanish double major now entering his graduate studies in U of T’s linguistics program, spoke on the politics around Brazil’s loss of Indigenous languages. According to Antono, official language status, colonization, and desire to adhere to the dominant culture are among the major factors contributing to this decline. Antono went on to say that, “It’s a race against time, for one. A lot of these languages have [very] few speakers left so if we — from different areas of the world — don’t work together, there is a chance we will not be able to do it at all in a few years.”

Documenting the language and history of Indigenous peoples is just one example of the work that we, as academics, institutions, and global citizens can do to help preserve cultures all over the world.

“I think we focus a lot on theoretical problems rather than the field, but we need more programs like the REP to learn about and communicate with these communities,” Antono continued. “As a student I’m torn between pursuing my academic interests but also in creating meaningful work [within] the community itself.” It is in this day and age of critically declining language diversity that impactful work like this is not only beneficial to both parties at hand, but necessary as well.

In June 2019, the Canadian Government passed the Indigenous Languages Act (ILA). Along with making attempts to adhere to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of Canada’s Calls to Action, the Canadian government is to allocate $333.7 million over five years and $115.7 million per year thereafter to support the ILA’s implementation. While there has been a lot of debate regarding the government’s claim of co-development of this legislation in collaboration with Indigenous groups, this increase in expenditure will hopefully allow more language revitalization projects to come to fruition in the coming years.

Academic institutions must do more to preserve Indigenous languages in light of the current instability in this area. According to Professor Andrea Bear Nicholas, Maliseet from Nekwotkok, Tobique First Nation, who works at St. Thomas University, the situation is truly dire. “Unless we as a country give equal rights to Indigenous languages for the right to schooling in our languages, I think we will not be saving our languages,” she said in an interview with Global News Canada. “We have to make the next step, and that would be pre-school programs, that would be immersion programs, and guaranteed to any community that wants to start them. This is critical.”

Across Canada, academic institutions are starting to make spaces for Indigenous peoples to learn and thrive, offering course credits in Indigenous languages and cultural studies, and recruiting fluent speakers as administrators and educators. The Mohawk language has now joined Inuktitut and Anishinaabemowin in U of T’s language course offerings, at two levels of education.

However, two levels of language-learning seem hardly enough given that the norm for other languages offered at U of T, such as French and German, are offered at four, if not five levels. As Canada’s number one university, continually pushing the boundaries of education, should we really have to ask ourselves whether three offered Indigenous languages are enough?

We must provide both Indigenous people — a great number of whom now live outside of reserves — and non-Indigenous students with opportunities to learn via immersive education, beginning in our public school systems. This is necessary if we want to move forward in mutual understanding and resolution.

U of T is also now beginning to pair Indigenous studies education with departments and faculties like the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Law, and Dalla Lana School of Public Health. According to Professor Maracle, it is crucial for professionals to learn about, understand, and attempt to solve the domestic problems faced by Indigenous peoples within our country.

The TRC has called on universities to start developing partnerships with Indigenous communities. “I can see universities coming to [our communities] and not just providing a classroom for students to go [to universities],” Maracle said.

For Maracle, though there is already programming in these communities, the question becomes, “how can we as institutions help to accredit those programmings that are already existing?” Institutions like U of T must strengthen partnerships with Indigenous communities, especially given the barriers that exist for Indigenous students entering academic institutions.

“If there are people in the community that are getting accreditation,” says Maracle, “[then] at the very least they would have gotten some validation or accreditation for the work they are already doing in their own community.” Public institutions historically have not engaged Indigenous students as well as they have their non-Indigenous counterparts. We must make greater efforts towards recruiting Indigenous youths for postsecondary educational opportunities.

For many Indigenous people like Maracle, Canada is now closer than it has ever been. In her view, Canada’s acceptance of the TRC’s Calls to Action, and promise to follow up with further action — the ILA, for example — has set the tone for Canadians. “The acceptance of the TRC entirely changed the objectives of Canada,” she said. “It is now working toward changing the ongoing problems of colonialism by working together.”

“In the Indigenous sense you would really be helping if we could sit down and have a conversation about what we actually need.” Maracle concluded. “We need to communicate with Indigenous people [to see] what they need help with.”

After all, the key to the preservation of any language or culture is ensuring that dialects not only survive, but thrive. We must start to look at reconciliation efforts that do not result in the survival and continuation of Indigenous languages and cultures as little more than continued assimilation.

Conroy Gomes is a fourth-year Neuroscience and Biology student at New College.

Opinion: Mental health services for youth don’t need to be inaccessible

A growing body of research sheds light on solutions to unique obstacles faced by youth

Opinion: Mental health services for youth don’t need to be inaccessible

This past year alone marks the deaths by suicide of three students at the University of Toronto. Their aftermath opened a barrage of criticisms toward the administration for their lax services for at-risk youth. While alarm bells have been rung for increased mental health and substance use services across campus, systemic change has been slow to come.

Indeed, the issue of mental health accessibility for youth — on and off campus, throughout the province, and across the country — remains a pressing policy and health care concern affecting millions of Canadians.

Among the sobering statistics that shroud youth mental health are the following: some 12.6 per cent of people under 18 years of age in Canada experience mental health and substance use disorders, while Statistics Canada cites suicide as the second most common cause of death, after accidents, among youth aged 15 and over. Importantly, Indigenous youth are disproportionately affected by suicide and addiction, and little research thus far has focused on this issue.

Many youth facing mental health challenges avoid treatment

Who are ‘youth,’ anyway? The McCain Centre for Child, Youth & Family Mental Health at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) roughly categorizes those ages 12–25 within this demographic, though CAMH more broadly includes those up to 29 years old in their definition.

Unquestioningly, this demographic is particularly susceptible to various mental health challenges as they pass through the hoops of development: commencing and finishing a university or college degree or vocational program, navigating the ebbs and flows of intimate relationships, and searching for employment.

Despite numerous treatment options available for youth, many still go untreated. Why is this? The reasons are plentiful: youth’s preference for self-managing, societal stigma, lack of assessments and screening, and even system fragmentation. With these barriers in mind, how can Canada’s health care system improve and cater diligently and efficaciously to youth across the country? 

The solutions, too, are plentiful

When I asked Dr. Joanna Henderson, Director of the Margaret and Wallace McCain Centre for Child, Youth, and Family Mental Health at CAMH, and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at U of T, if mental health services for youth are adequate, or even optimal, her answer was a hard no.

Henderson has worked with many teams and professionals to increase mental health and substance use services for youth. She explained that good services involve “creating spaces for young people who can walk in without an appointment or referral, and access high quality mental health and substance use services as an entry point.”

Long wait times, however, are a ubiquitously understood concern across the health care continuum, leaving young people with few, and often inadequate, options to choose from. The trope of “service delayed, service denied” captures this concern. 

“When young people have to wait for service, several things happen,” Henderson said. “One, the symptoms they were originally presenting for become exacerbated, so they get worse. Two, the impact on their functioning can have significant long-term consequences. And three, the overall [health] outcomes are poorer.”

“From a system perspective, that means our delays have increased the cost of providing care to young people.”

In Canada alone, the economic burden of mental illness is high, with an estimated 51 billion dollars spent per year. This includes “health care costs, lost productivity, and a reduction of various quality-of-life health indicators.”

To be clear, this also means that young people requiring mental health and substance use support resort to emergency rooms where they may be hastily ushered in and out, without receiving thorough long-term care. 

So what do youth-friendly mental health and substance use services look like? Among the many salient features, they are inclusive, safe, confidential, bright, and comfortable. Equally as critical, however, is that they involve consulting with youth for their input. 

“How is it that the whole commercial for-profit industry figures out how to sell their product or their service?” Henderson asked. “You engage with and learn from consumers. We fail to do that in mental health and in health largely.” 

Solutions to increase accessibility of mental health services for youth

The research on this is clear. A cardinal rule for youth-friendly services involves youth actively engaging with the system — from policy development to the implementation of strategies and programs. 

We know that youth-friendly services can benefit immeasurably by having youth co-design these spaces, but we also know that to do so, current systems that feature the old-fashioned clinical model of care, whereby one presents a set of symptoms and is discreetly greeted, treated, and discharged, ought to be neatly folded and set aside for more modern and progressive models. 

An optimal system, therefore, requires a flexible model of care. For starters, it’s making programs visible to youth so that they know where they can go when they need help, and one they can choose to enter and leave as they wish, without the rigidity of a treatment timeline and discharge date.

This includes drop-in visits and telephone conversations, where hours of operation are accessible, such as during weekends and evenings when youth would not need to worry about missing school or work. Artistic and innovative approaches to treatment, emphasizing non-verbal methods of communication such as music and drama therapy, could also be more accessible to youth. 

Additionally, youth-friendly mental health and substance use services ought to be accessible in communities where public transit exists. Costs, too, must be fair and inexpensive, as Hawke and colleagues note in their recently published paper on this topic: “Youth who cannot afford services will not likely access them.” 

Inclusivity mandates changing outreach platforms and engaging with technology to relate to and connect with youth. Social media platforms are pertinent sites of connection, as are websites that are colourful, up-to-date, and practical.

Steering clear from “disease language,” Henderson remarks, can shift the conversation away from pathologizing and lead youth to feel genuinely heard and understood.

Given also the wide range of development during this period of one’s life, youth services ought to be comprehensive and individualistic. There is no one-size-fits-all model, and clumping youth together under a monolithic category fails to address the transient and not-so-transient challenges children and adults experience.   

The solutions to providing youth-friendly services are exhaustive, albeit refreshingly so. It’s good to know that we matter, but it’s perhaps more important to know that the system, warts and all, is gradually shifting to welcome youth input.

This can be achieved by hiring caregivers whom young people can bond and relate to, and expanding our very conceptions of mental health and the unique pins and needles experienced by every young person.


If you or someone you know is in distress, you can call:

  • Canada Suicide Prevention Service phone available 24/7 at 1-833-456-4566
  • Good 2 Talk Student Helpline at 1-866-925-5454
  • Ontario Mental Health Helpline at 1-866-531-2600
  • Gerstein Centre Crisis Line at 416-929-5200
  • U of T Health & Wellness Centre at 416-978-8030.

Warning signs of suicide include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. If you suspect someone you know may be contemplating suicide, you should talk to them, according to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

“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.