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Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson

In May 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada released the report PDF fileHonouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, external link. The report outlined the history and legacy of Canada’s residential school system for Aboriginal children. The Commission’s report included 94 Calls to Action in order to redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation. Several of these Calls to Action were directly addressed to post-secondary educational institutions to:

  • develop Indigenous focused programs in specific fields, including education, health care and law
  • to increase opportunities for intercultural competency training
  • to promote an awareness of Indigenous rights, histories and perspectives

Others were connected to education more generally.

Ryerson’s commitment to truth and reconciliation

Ryerson University is overcoming the legacy of a painful past. For years there was a lack of understanding of the concerns of its Indigenous community and little desire to accept responsibility to address these concerns. There was also a reluctance to acknowledge the harmful role played by the university’s namesake. 

But attitudes are changing. Within the Ryerson community there is growing recognition of the need to demonstrate respect and understanding of the land the university sits on, and to recognize the cultural knowledge and ways of knowing brought by Indigenous students, staff and faculty.

This is an important time at Ryerson to acknowledge the harms of the past and move forward along the path to reconciliation. The PDF fileCommission’s Principles of Reconciliation provide the building blocks needed for reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canada to occur. A key step in this process, as recognized by the Commission, is the elimination of the educational gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. 

Key milestones

Community consultations (November 2015 to March 2017)

One of the first stages of Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson was to create space for Ryerson’s Indigenous community to participate in consultations and discussions about their living experience. Consultations were held in a variety of formats, including three panel discussions, eight Talking Circles and two meetings, over the course of approximately two years.

Elder Joanna Dallaire sitting with others around a table at Ryerson community consultations, the Eagle Staff stands nearby
Elder Joanna Dallaire sitting with others around a table, leading an opening prayer at the Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson community consultations

Consultation participants 

Aboriginal students, faculty, staff as well as members of the general public and community groups were invited to participate in the community consultations. 

This included Indigenous and non-Indigenous students, faculty, and staff at Ryerson and groups including:

  • Centre for Indigenous Governance and Dr. Pamela Palmeter (Chair in Indigenous Governance)
  • Continuing Education Students' Association of Ryerson (CESAR)
  • CUPE 3904
  • Dr. Winnie Ng (2011 to 2016 Unifor Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy)
  • First Nations Technical Institute
  • Indigenous Students Association
  • Indigenous Students Rising
  • Racialized Students Collective
  • Ryerson Faculty Association 
  • Ryerson Faculty Association’s Aboriginal Caucus
  • Ryerson Students’ Union
  • Ryerson Sociology Students’ Union
  • Ryerson Faculty Association’s Equity Issues Committee
  • Social Justice Week Committee

Community celebration (January 2018)

Elder Joanne Dallaire speaking at a podium at the Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson community celebration; university leaders stand behind her in support

On January 26, 2018, after almost two years of community consultations, Ryerson hosted a celebration to release the community consultation summary report: Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson: Building a Foundation for Generations to Come. The two-hour ceremony was led by Dr. Denise O’Neil Green (Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion) and Elder Joanne Okimawininew Dallaire, and featured traditional Indigenous ceremonies including:

  • an opening pipe ceremony 
  • the reciting of the Peace Song by Monica McKay
  • a performance of the Honour Song by Women Hand Drummers

Dr. Mohamed Lachemi (President and Vice-Chancellor) spoke of Ryerson’s commitment to a campus environment that embraces and supports Aboriginal learners, faculty and staff. He recognized the importance in ensuring Aboriginal community members take a leading role in the advancement of Aboriginal education at Ryerson. Dr. Michael Benarroch (Provost and Vice-President, Academic) addressed some of the next steps for the university including the creation of a working group, co-chaired by himself, Dr. Green and Elder Dallaire, which will present a response to the community consultation report by summer 2018, in time for the new academic year.

Plaque unveiling 

Students and alumni joined in the unveiling of a new plaque to be installed next to the Egerton Ryerson statue on Gould Street. The plaque acknowledges Ryerson’s connection to residential schools and is a reminder of the university’s commitment to Truth and Reconciliation and to respectful relationships with Indigenous communities.

Michael Benarroch, Mohamed Lachemi and Indigenous students unveil the plaque that will be installed next to the Egerton Ryerson statue
Michael Benarroch and Mohamed Lachemi being wrapped in the yellow and blue star blanket at the Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson community celebration

The Star Blanket

Dr. Lachemi and Dr. Benarroch were wrapped in a Star Blanket, an act that symbolized the responsibility of the Ryerson leaders to respond to the report, while also representing a gesture of peace and goodwill. In 2010, the blanket was gifted to Ryerson upon the launch of the Aboriginal Education Council, commemorating a new era of Ryerson University/Indigenous relations.

Release of the community consultation summary report 

The Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson: Building a Foundation for Generations to Come report was also released at the event. The report outlines the challenges the university faces and identifies opportunities for change outlining suggestions for change which, if adopted by the Ryerson community, will:

Michael Benarroch, Mohamed Lachemi and Denise O'Neil Green holding the community consultation report at the Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson community celebration
  • ensure that the university expands its recognition and funding for current and new Indigenous initiatives
  • infuse Indigenous knowledges into the curriculum in all faculties 
  • incorporate Indigenous concerns as a priority in strategic planning

This report serves as a foundation for the next stage of discussions with the entire community and groups on campus, including faculties, departments, unions and governing bodies, on a plan to strategically move forward together.

Plaque unveiling next to Egerton Ryerson statue (June 2018)

Ryerson community members gather on Gould Street, listening to a person at a podium at the plaque unveiling for next to the Egerton Ryerson statue on Gould Street

On June 25, 2018, Ryerson community members, including Indigenous students, faculty and staff, gathered at the unveiling of a contextualizing plaque at the Egerton Ryerson statue on Gould Street. 

The plaque reads: 

"This plaque serves as a reminder of Ryerson University's commitment to moving forward in the spirit of truth and reconciliation. Egerton Ryerson is widely known for his contributions to Ontario's public educational system. As Chief Superintendent of Education, Ryerson's recommendations were instrumental in the design and implementation of the Indian Residential School System. 

Elder Joanne Dallaire and Indigenous community members standing by the plaque next to the Egerton Ryerson statue on Gould Street

In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reported that children in the schools were subjected to unthinkable abuse and neglect, to medical experimentation, punishment for the practice of cultures or languages and death. The aim of the Residential School System was cultural genocide."

It concludes with two quotations, one by Chief Sitting Bull (“Let us put our minds together to see what kind of lives we can create for our children”), the other from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (“For the child taken, for the parent left behind”).

Elder Joanne Dallaire leading the opening prayer at the plaque unveiling next to the Egerton Ryerson statue on Gould Street

Elder Dallaire opened the event with a traditional opening. President Lachemi addressed community members, acknowledging the activism of Danielle Sinclair, a Ryerson social work graduate who led a movement to create the plaque. Dr. Green shared how the plaque represents truth, serving as a reminder to all passersby of Ryerson’s commitment to moving forward in the spirit of truth and reconciliation.

The plaque was unveiled by President Lachemi and social work student Sarah Dennis, who spoke of the painful story the statue tells Indigenous students at Ryerson. The event also included an honour song by social work student Joshua Fisher. The event ended with a closing prayer by Elder Dallaire.

June 2015

Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Canada releases final report 

October 2015

Ryerson University hosted two events to initiate discussion on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee of Canada’s report and began a discussion of how Ryerson can work collectively towards the implementation of the calls to action outlined in the report.

The OVPECI hosted two events, including:

  • Public form: Truth and Reconciliation Implementation
  • Soup and Substance - Truth and Reconciliation Commission 2015 Report: What does it mean for Ryerson?

November 2015

Dr. Lachemi (then Provost and Vice-President, Academic) launches community-wide consultations on the topic of Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson. This process and consultations were led by Elder Dallaire and Dr. Green (then Assistant Vice-President/Vice-Provost, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion).

January 2016

The School of Journalism announces a new online course: Reporting on Indigenous Issues. The course is developed by Dr. Joyce Smith and CBC reporter and educator Duncan McCue and Journalists for Human Rights (a charity and non-governmental organization).

February 2016

Graduate students from the School of Journalism embark on a digital reporting project inspired by the TRC’s calls to action. Graduate student Asmaa Malik creates This is a Canadian Issue, a microsite dedicated to telling stories from Indigenous Peoples in Canada. 

March 2016

The Aboriginal Education Council and the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion host a Dine and Discourse lecture on the TRC’s calls to actions. Community members are invited to build their awareness and understanding of the report and how to contribute. 

April 2016

A student-led consultation takes place. 

May 2016

The Learning and Teaching Office hosts the 2016 Ryerson Faculty Conference in which Honourable Murray Sinclair provides the keynote address: “Canada’s Residential Schools: The story we must all know”. Ryerson community members are challenged to make a commitment to Ryerson, their community or their family to do something that will contribute to making the future better for all Indigenous Peoples in Canada.

May 2016

A consultation for Aboriginal students at Ryerson takes place.

June 2016

A consultation with Aboriginal community members takes place, involving groups including members of Aboriginal Student Services, Aboriginal Education Council and CUPE.

September 2016

The School of Journalism appoints the CBC’s Duncan McCue to the position of Rogers Journalist in Residence. In his role, he is tasked with working with faculty to develop new approaches and educational strategies for reporting on Indigenous stories and issues, culminating in a new curriculum for students.

October 2016

Throughout the month, consultations are held for a variety of groups, including:

  • Aboriginal students, faculty and staff 
  • Aboriginal community partners and agencies
  • Non-Aboriginal students, faculty and staff 

October 2016

The Unifor National Chair in Social Justice and Democracy hosts Social Justice Week 2016. The focus is decolonization and transforming social justice.

November 2016

TRC consults with the ECI Campuswide Steering and Implementation Committee.

February 2017

A consultation with the First Nations Technical Institute takes place. Indigenous Students Rising also participate in a consultation.

March 2017

Consultations close after having been held in a variety of formats, including three panel discussions, eight Talking Circles and two meetings. Documents, transcripts, notes and course material from the consultations are gathered and compiled. Dr. Green and Elder Dellaire begin writing the summary report as part of the community consultations. 

June 2017

As part of National Indigenous History Month, graduate students from the School of Journalism launch the microsite Indigenous Land, Urban Stories, external link in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights. The project features interactive stories about urban Indigenous life. Topics include cultural appropriation, the role of Christianity in spiritual life and reclaiming the names of Toronto places.

October 2017

The Unifor National Chair in Social Justice and Democracy hosts the 7th Social Justice Week. Many of the events focus on issues of Indigenous culture and solidarity. Keynote speaker Christi Belcourt and moderator Hayden King host a discussion on Indigenous art, culture and resistance. The event includes panel discussions, a rally, march, sharing circles and musical performances. 

As part of the event, 

  • Annual TRC Check-In during Social Justice Week has been included as a permanent annual feature in the program lineup. The Check-In will provide an update on the progress of the commitments made in the prior year on implementing the various Ryerson TRC initiatives.
  • Meeting with members of the Indigenous Students Association, Continuing Education Student Association of Ryerson and Ryerson Students Union

November 2017 

Dr. Green and Elder Dellaire finalize the summary report as part of the community consultations. 

January 2018

A celebration was held to release and present the report Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson: Building a Foundation for Generations to Come to President Lachemi and Provost Michael Benarroch. The report offers a summary of the community consultations. At the event, a plaque to accompany the Egerton Ryerson statue is also unveiled, serving as a reminder of Ryerson's commitment to truth and reconciliation. The text on the plaque contextualizes Egerton’s role in the creation of Canada’s residential school system. 

June 2018

As part of National Indigenous History Month, a public event is held to unveil the plaque installed on Gould Street beneath the statue.

October 2018

The Unifor National Chair in Social Justice and Democracy hosts the 8th Social Justice Week. As part of the week, Elder Dellaire joins moderator Duncan McCue at the Annual Truth and Reconciliation Commission Check-In takes place. Jeremie Caribou leads Indigenous Walking Tours, where settlers and non-settlers alike can learn the hidden history of campus spaces. Brian Charles (off-reserve Band member of the Chippewas of Georgina Island) leads a presentation using replica wampum belts to illuminate the interconnected histories of Indigenous peoples and settlers in the Eastern Woodlands. The Yellowhead Institute hosts an event of engaging and informative discussions on the federal government's proposed Indigenous Rights Framework as well as alternatives.

The university has a long-standing commitment to supporting Aboriginal students, faculty and staff. Examples include:

  • Soup and Substance brings together Ryerson community members over noon-hour panel discussions. In 2019, the four-part Decolonization Series addressed the ways in which Ryerson students, faculty and staff can participate in decolonization at Ryerson. Find the sessions on Ryecast
  • Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services (RASS) provides specialized services for Aboriginal, Metis and Inuit students on campus to develop a mutually productive relationship between Ryerson and the Aboriginal community.
  • Aboriginal Liaison/Admissions Officer supports the unique ‘wrap around’ admissions process for Aboriginal learners and students.
  • Aboriginal Human Resources Consultant supports candidates considering positions at Ryerson. They also support new employees settling into new roles or leaders looking to hire Aboriginal employees.
  • First Nations, Metis and Inuit Community Group brings together faculty, instructors and staff from across the university who come together to learn from each other.
  • The Eagle Staff is an important part of university events. During a community ceremony and celebration on March 30, 2012, Ryerson University and RASS were presented with an Eagle staff, making it the first and only university in Ontario to receive one. The staff has very significant spiritual significance and is adorned with fur and thirteen eagle feathers. It is the traditional flag of Indigenous peoples and takes precedence over all other flags. 
  • Partnership between Ryerson and the First Nations Technical Institute which provides university-level education in social work, and politics and government.
  • Aboriginal Education Council whos mandate is to participate in the process of developing a new relationship of truth and reconciliation between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people at Ryerson (and in the community at large) based on knowledge and respect.
  • Chair in Indigenous Governance
  • TRC at The Ryerson School of Journalism: Master’s students at Ryerson School of Journalism embarked on this digital reporting project inspired by the TRC’s calls to action in areas from holistic healthcare to criminal justice, from preserving languages to fostering new generations of athletes.
  • Aboriginal Knowledges and Experiences certificate program provides a broad orientation to Aboriginal experiences in Canada and how Aboriginal peoples have been impacted by laws, policies, and practices in the health, social services, human resources, and other sectors.
  • Ryerson’s Land Acknowledgement, developed by the Aboriginal Education Council

For more resources and information, please visit Ryerson's Aboriginal Initiatives website.

Note on language and terminology

Aboriginal Peoples in Canada include persons who are First Nation, Inuit or Metis. The term Aboriginal peoples was established by the federal government as an umbrella term for diverse Indigenous peoples in Canada.

First Nation(s) has been adopted in Canada to replace the term “Indian band” or “Indians,” however, this may not be a term with which Indigenous peoples identify. They may identify with their Nation, e.g. Anishinabe, Haudenosaunee, Mi’kmaq or Dene and/or other terms such as Native, Native Indian, Native American or Indigenous peoples. All of these identities can be part of the umbrella term of Aboriginal Peoples in Canada.

Status refers to First Nations peoples who are recognized by the federal government as “Indians” under the federal Indian Act; Treaty refers to those who are Status and belong to a First Nation that signed a treaty with the Crown; Non-Status refers to individuals.

Get in touch 

If you have any questions or would like more information on Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson, please email trc.edi@ryerson.ca

(Photo by Kaytee Dalton)