U of T Truth and Reconciliation steering committee releases interim report

No formal recommendations made yet on how to implement "Calls to Action"

U of T Truth and Reconciliation steering committee releases interim report

The Steering Committee for the U of T Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released its interim report on July 7.

The report states the primary work of the Committee is to “make recommendations regarding how the University community can implement the TRC Calls to Action, in alignment with the University of Toronto’s mandate and mission.”

No formal recommendations have been made yet; the report describes the committee’s work thus far, including the creation of working groups and “Indigenous-themed programs and initiatives across the University of Toronto.” These university-wide initiatives include scholarships, bursaries, and awards specifically given to Indigenous students, and bolstering the Transitional Year Programme, which aids Indigenous students in gaining access to resources at the university.

The report includes an analysis of each faculty of the university. It outlines the resources and initiatives offered in relation to Indigenous presence and understanding, specifically in the areas of recruitment and admissions, curriculum, and community outreach.

In January, the committee was tasked to deliver recommendations on how to implement the Truth and Conciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action. The committee’s mandate includes reviewing how to build a stronger Indigenous presence on all three campuses. This can be accomplished through: further admission of Indigenous students and the provision of aid for those students; the active hiring of more Indigenous employees, staff, and faculty; or the inclusion of Indigenous content in all university programs and the “enhancement of existing Indigenous-focused courses and academic programs.”

The committee’s final report is expected to provide a more specific outline of the university’s mandate in working with Indigenous partners — such as First Nations House and the Indigenous Studies program — to ensure that the university does its part in implementing recommendations that reflect the intention of the Truth and Reconciliation commission’s final report.

Truth and reconciliation grounds Indigenous Education Week

Wab Kinew visits U of T, supports Indigenous course requirement

Truth and reconciliation grounds Indigenous Education Week

Each year, the First Nations House (FNH) hosts a week-long series of events at the University of Toronto for students, staff, faculty, and the community to highlight the contributions of Indigenous peoples to the academy. The week also serves as an opportunity to learn about the diversity of Indigenous peoples, their cultural and religious practices, and their languages.

Running from February 22 to 26, Indigenous Education Week’s (IEW) provided audiences with the chance to take an honest look at Canada’s history of colonization and to reassess the responsibilities Canadians have to advocate for truth and reconciliation

What is truth and reconciliation?

Arthur Manuel, a First Nations political leader and chairman at the Indigenous Network on Economies and Trade, gave a presentation at the The 150 Years of Canadian Colonization and Our Right to Self-Determination event during IEW. In his presentation, he explained that colonization in Canada is ongoing and that it is still a major problem in the US, New Zealand, and Australia.

Manuel argued that there needs to be more conversation about what colonization is and its implications for Indigenous peoples, especially regarding the dispossession of land, the creation of a culture of dependence, and the oppression of Indigenous peoples.

Manuel believes that dispossession of land is the root of other related struggles: “A lot of people don’t understand how the dispossession happens, how the dependency happens or even how the oppression happens. But it all happens here in Canada and it starts with the constitution, the first constitution of Canada.”

The British North America Act instituted in 1867 was the piece of legislation in Canada that gave land rights to the British. This left Indigenous peoples with only marginal control over their land and resources.

Currently, Indigenous communities comprise 0.2 per cent of territorial Canada, leaving the bulk of the land and resources in the hands of occupiers to decide how it is managed, preserved, and allocated.

“I think most Canadians have some really distorted pictures of Indigenous communities. They know we are poor but they do not understand how systemic impoverishment really works,” Manuel said. “[They] try and say that our poverty is really because our chiefs are paying themselves too much money… That may be the case in a small minority of cases, but we are basically underfunded and we have no land base to solve the problems dispossession has caused us.”

Manuel believes that the current situation cannot and should not be solved without the support of all Canadians. He explained that establishing and maintaining a collaborative relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada is an important step towards reconciliation. 

“It is essential that both the colonizer and the colonized need to decolonize together,” he told The Varsity. “It will require the genius of Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples to create the massive amounts of pressure needed to make the fundamental change from assimilation to recognition of Aboriginal rights.”

Wab Kinew at U of T

The Arts & Science Students’ Union (ASSU) collaborated with the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), the FNH, the Department Of Aboriginal Studies, and the Department of Anthropology to bring Wabanakwut “Wab” Kinew to speak at the Isabel Bader theatre on February 24.

Kinew is a journalist, hip-hop artist, and associate vice president for Indigenous relations at the University of Winnipeg.

Kinew gave an overview of the history of the ongoing colonial project in Canada. “Persuade me how it’s consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that one group of children in this country gets an unequal shot at life because of where they start,” he challenged the audience.

Wab Kinew signs NSA petition to support mandatory indigenous education. Rusaba Alam/THE VARSITY

Wab Kinew signs NSA petition to support mandatory indigenous education. Rusaba Alam/THE VARSITY

“Convince me that it’s consistent with your ideals of what this country stands for — that one group of kids in this country gets a poor quality education, gets less access to health services, and in cases where there’s family breakdown, gets less access to assistance when they’re at their most vulnerable,” Kinew said.

He also spoke about his own family’s experiences with intergenerational trauma resulting from residential schools. These schools were a state-sanctioned system designed to “kill the Indian in the child” and were sites of widespread abuse and human rights violations. “That was not long ago,” Kinew said during his talk. “That’s within living memory.” The provisions in the 1876 Indian Act that created the framework for residential schools were not removed until late 2014.

“Consider what happens after a person leaves residential school… the overall dynamic of how [my father] was being socialized, of how he began to understand how an adult should relate to a child. His whole conception of what a parent should be, of how an adult should relate to a kid, was formed in an environment where he was raised by people who didn’t like him and in many cases, hated him. And then a few cases, were very abusive to him,” Kinew explained. “These model behaviours and these patterns of dysfunction become transmitted down through the generations.”

After his talk, Kinew took questions from the audience. Many people asked how they could better support Indigenous communities. Kinew said that listening to and respecting Indigenous experiences are among the best things that those wishing to help can do.

Activism on campus

The Native Students’ Association (NSA) has been pushing U of T to institute a mandatory Indigenous course credit for all students. They are circulating a petition that has garnered 1,400 online signatures, and roughly 3,000 on paper. Kinew signed the petition, adding his name to a list of prolific figures that also includes Carolyn Bennett, minister for Indigenous and northern affairs.

Speaking on the behalf of the NSA, Bear Clan leader Roy Strebel hopes that Kinew’s signature will increase support for their initiative. “When you have a high-profile Indigenous person like Wab endorsing what we are doing, it can be humbling,” he said. “It was great that he was able to speak about the need for greater content of Indigenous studies at the University of Toronto.”

According to Strebel, the NSA is still discussing a draft proposal on an Indigenous credit mandate to put forward to the university. “[The] response we have been getting is incredible, and our members are doing a great job at getting signatures,” said Strebel. “I think our members are to be commended for their ongoing commitment to what we have proposed, and the ongoing support is overwhelming.”

What can universities do?

Strebel believes the majority of the population is either “unaware, and/or misinformed about the relationship of First Nations, and the government of Canada.”

“Issues such as residential schools is something that all students should be aware of,” he said, adding that educating people on the effect the Indian Act has had on First Nations since its inception in 1876 is also crucial knowledge. “I think that these two issues should be discussed and considered in the university curriculum.”

The NSA is currently petitioning to have an Indigenous credit component as a part of every degree. “[The] NSA envisions U of T to an implement Indigenous content mandate to incoming undergraduate students to complete an Indigenous degree requirement before graduating from any of the Arts & Sciences department,” said Dhanela Paran, Loon Clan leader & CFO of the NSA.

“This does not mean all students would have to complete one newly designed specific course; rather students would take any existing course from any department, as long as there is Indigenous content in it,” Paran explained, adding that it would be best for the Faculty of Arts & Science to design and select the eligible courses for these requirements.

“[This] means putting the right people in place, and providing proper support and resources to implementing a requirement for the long term effectively,” she said.

“I think all universities should follow Murray Sinclair’s call to action he put in the Truth and Reconciliation Report,” Manuel said.

“I think working with Indigenous students and local Indigenous knowledge keepers and elders would help increase our capacity to build a better Canada.  I think the Indigenous Education Week is a really positive step for U of T to take and that more effort needs to be put in these events so they become recognized across Canada,” he said. 

“I think there’s always room for more conversation,” said Strebel.

U of T strikes Truth and Reconciliation steering committee

Native Students’ Association supports mandatory Indigenous studies credit

U of T strikes Truth and Reconciliation steering committee

In the wake of the recent release of the full report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC), U of T president Meric Gertler and U of T vice president and provost Cheryl Regehr have struck a university-wide steering committee to review and implement the TRC’s conclusions. The committee was created on January 15.

The TRC released its historic final report which includes a total of 94 “Calls to Action.” These “Calls to Action” are recommendations that cover steps institutions and people can take towards expediting reconciliation. Many of them involve educational reforms.

Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, coordinator of U of T’s Council of Aboriginal Initiatives and director of Aboriginal student services at U of T’s First Nations House, alongside professor Stephen Toope, director of the Munk School of Global Affairs, are the steering committee’s co-chairs. Community Elders Lee Maracle and Andrew Wesley are also confirmed to be providing “guidance and wisdom” to the committee.

“The steering committee will be guiding the implementation of the Terms of Reference. I will participate in the same way all the members of the committee do,” said Maracle.

“The role of the committee is to consider the recommendations of the TRC and implement those that are relevant to the university. Students and faculty can become involved in the working groups attached to the steering committee and projects the committee proposes to undertake,” Maracle continued.

Other supporters of the committee include associate professor Sandy Welsh, vice provost, students, and professor Sioban Nelson, vice provost, academic programs and faculty and academic life, who will work closely with academic divisions and other stakeholders following the TRC’s Terms of Reference.

Native Students’ Association calls for mandatory Indigenous Studies class

The Native Students’ Association (NSA) recently circulated a petition calling on the university to implement a mandatory Indigenous studies credit across all levels of education. The petition, which was posted on Change.org last week, had 476 supporters at press time.

“The topic of Indigenous studies is relevant to everyone who was born or resides in this country as it is an often overlooked but essential factor in the search to fully understand our collective Canadian history and identity, regardless of one’s ethnic background,” said Matthew Cappella, Maten Clan Leader of the NSA.

“There are so many Canadians that are not educated on Indigenous people in Canada. I see this everyday in my classes. The University of Winnipeg and Lakehead University in Thunder Bay have already approved mandatory Indigenous studies for undergrads,” said Roy Stebel, Bear Clan Leader with the NSA.

The movement in support of a mandatory Indigenous studies course now directly responds to Call 62 of the TRC, which calls for funding and for the inclusion of Aboriginal knowledge on high school and university curricula.

“The University of Toronto is far overdue in keeping up to speed on such an important issue. It is about time that university students begin to have a better understanding of Indigenous Canadians, this will ensure a stronger more succinct nation for our future,” said Stebel.

According to the NSA, the steering committee has yet to reach out to them, and NSA members hope to be included in the process.

“At this point we know very little of the committee. Unfortunately we have not been contacted by anyone yet either. However, since we are already responding to Call 62 of the TRC Calls to Action, we are confident that at least one of our members will be selected for the committee,” said Dhanela Paran, Loon Leader, and Audrey Rochette, Crane Leader, in a joint statement.

“In fact we are hoping to have at least three of our council on the committee due to the tangible work we do everyday, every month, and every year on campus and [the] impact we have not only through thoughtful discussions but through our events, campaigns, community work, and dedication to our goals. We do this work already and our insight could be very valuable as student leaders,” they added.

Committee set to have “working groups”

“I am Mohawk, so this impacts many people in Indigenous communities and myself,” said Hamilton-Diabo. We want to be able to increase the inclusion of Indigenous people in the post-secondary sector and society where many members have disadvantages. [This is] me working for my community,” he added.

Hamilton-Diabo says the committee will look at all mechanisms available to them when considering a mandatory course in Indigenous studies for all students at U of T.

“First Nations House have been putting it out there on behalf of the NSA we support any activity the NSA puts forward to recommend change, and I think it is a important piece and we are well aware of the work they are doing and interested in seeing larger discussion that needs to take place. Should this go ahead, it would need to involve other areas. It sparks a very needed discussion,” commented Hamilton-Diabo on the NSA’s petition.

“I think we would definitely be looking at having a wide range of people that can be a benefit to the committee. [There will be] lots of opportunity for people to get involved. We will create working groups,” he said on the committee’s development.

For his part, Hamilton-Diabo is looking forward to exploring Indigenous language courses, which are currently offered at U of T. Courses teaching Indigenous languages were named in the 94 “Calls to Action” as an aspect of knowledge that post-secondary institutions should share and promote.

The committee is expected to present an interim report to Regehr and Gertler by July 1, 2016 and a final report by December 31, 2016.

Nominations for faculty, staff, and students to sit on the steering committee will close on January 25, 2016.

Calls to action and universities

The TRC Calls to Action that apply to post-secondary institutions include: asking universities to create degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages; requiring students at medical and nursing schools to take a course specifically related to Aboriginal health issues; requiring law students to take a course in Indigenous law; and educating future social and child welfare workers about the effects and legacy of residential schools for Aboriginal communities and families.

U of T currently offers courses related to Indigenous issues within these disciplines; however, not all programs require an Indigenous studies course to graduate.

The university also houses services for Indigenous students such as the First Nations House, the Council on Aboriginal Initiatives, the Indigenous Language Initiative, and the Indigenous Health Science Group. The most recent initiative is the newly established Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous health, a research institute dedicated to the health of Indigenous Canadians.