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A Path to Reconciliation

Section One: A Path to Reconciliation

Much of the current state of troubled relations between Aboriginal and nonAboriginal Canadians is attributable to educational institutions and what they have taught, or failed to teach, over many generations. Despite that history, or, perhaps more correctly, because of its potential, the Commission believes that education is also the key to reconciliation… Education must remedy the gaps in historical knowledge that perpetuate ignorance and racism.

Truth and Reconciliation of Canada Final Report, 2015

Introduction

This is an important time at Ryerson, as we acknowledge the harms of the past and move forward along the path to reconciliation. More generally this is a pivotal time for Canada. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission’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. 

In June 2015, the Commission released its final report on the history and legacy of Canada’s residential school system for Aboriginal children. The report, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future, contains ninety-four Calls to Action to advance and sustain the process of reconciliation in Canada. 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; and to promote an awareness of Indigenous rights, histories and perspectives. Others were connected to education more generally.

Egerton Ryerson and Residential Schools

As Ryerson moves forward on its path to reconciliation the university has had to confront an especially harmful connection to the past. This connection is with the university’s famous namesake. Egerton Ryerson was instrumental in the establishment of Ontario’s public education system. However, while he supported free and compulsory education, he also believed in a different system of education for Aboriginal children. These beliefs influenced, in part, the establishment of what became the Indian Residential School System that has had such a devastating impact on First Nations, Métis and Inuit people across Canada.

In 2010, Ryerson’s Aboriginal Education Council conducted research on Egerton Ryerson’s role in what became the residential school system. Once the statement was finalized, the Council hosted a healing ceremony and in 2013 gifted Ryerson with a Star Blanket, currently displayed in the lobby of Jorgenson Hall, which marked a positive move forward in the relationship between Ryerson and the Indigenous community of Toronto.

Consultations

The authors have undertaken extensive consultations on how best to move toward implementing the TRC Calls to Action so that the university cultivates a respectful and welcoming environment for Indigenous students that will prevail over the legacy of colonization. The consultations and educational programming events began in March 2016 and are still continuing. This community consultation report reflects the overwhelming support for the growth and development of Indigenizing programs and services across the university which the report’s authors discovered during their consultations, while bringing to light many of the challenges that exist as Ryerson embarks on a path to respond to the Calls to Action. 

Since the TRC report was released, there have been numerous conversations, some quite emotional and spirited, as the Ryerson community explores what the report means for Ryerson and how best to implement the TRC Calls to Action in the context of the university’s distinctive role within Canada’s post-secondary system. The conversations have taken a range of forms across the university: talking circles, consultations, panel discussions, formal keynote addresses and class assignments.

Themes that Emerged during the Consultations

Six major themes emerged from Ryerson community consultation: 

Develop and implement a strategic vision to Indigenize Ryerson University.

In the consultations it was strongly emphasized that when Ryerson develops its strategic plans, including its next Academic Plan, there needs to be a significant focus on reconciliation that includes the needs of Indigenous students, faculty, administrators and staff in academic areas, operations, recruitment and campus planning.

Improve and expand support for Indigenous learners. The main areas of discussion centred on:

  • Enhancing Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services (RASS),
  • Addressing barriers for Indigenous Peoples to attend post-secondary education,
  • Increasing funding for Indigenous students’ education, and
  • Ensuring Indigenous student retention.

Indigenize teaching and learning practices.

This relates to the need to develop and promote culturally responsible and respectful curriculum that integrates Indigenous pedagogies and ways of knowing. The main areas of discussion included:

  • Incorporating Indigenous knowledges and content as part of a required curriculum for all Ryerson learners,
  • Providing training and support to faculty on how to bring Indigenous knowledges and research methodologies into the classroom and curriculum,
  • Developing new Indigenous focused programs, and
  • Contributing to Indigenous language revitalization.

Increase Indigenous staff and faculty, and recognize other ways of knowing for faculty and students.

The main areas of discussion included:

  • Ways to increase the number of Indigenous faculty and staff at Ryerson, and
  • How to create space for Traditional Knowledge Keepers

Deepen engagement and establish partnerships with the local community, Indigenous communities and other post-secondary institutions.

The discussions focused on the importance of Ryerson increasing its engagement and partnerships with Indigenous communities and other post-secondary institutions as a way to expand Indigenous awareness, cross-cultural experiences, Indigenizing curriculum and creating new degrees and certificates in Indigenous languages. 

Increase the Indigenous visibility at Ryerson and honour the Indigenous history and cultures through symbolic gestures such as offering a formal statement of apology and expressions of reconciliation.

The range of recommendations included having a campus-wide event to recognize National Aboriginal Day. However, the most significant recommendation that was offered relates to the need for Ryerson University to do more to publicly acknowledge (in ways other than on its website) the impact that Egerton Ryerson had on the residential school system and for that acknowledgment to be equal to Ryerson University’s description of his work on early educational development.

A Word on “Indigenization”

The term Indigenization is an emerging 21st-century concept, and, as such, it is important to have a common understanding of what it means and how it is applied. For the purposes of this report, the following definition is used: 

Indigenization is the process of infusing Aboriginal knowledge and perspective into the structural layers of an institution. The goal is to create a more inclusive environment through the presentation of a different world view, and to enhance and enrich the educational and cultural experience of the educational community. This does not mean the institution is Indigenous-centred, however it does mean that consideration of Aboriginal issues comes “naturally.” Learning about Indigenization, Camosun College, external link

Steps Already Taken

Since the inception of the TRC Ryerson Community Consultation, significant steps have already been taken at the university. For instance:

  • Since May 2016, the Learning and Teaching Office has collaborated with Aboriginal Initiatives to offer training and educational sessions to the annual Ryerson Teaching and Learning Conference.
  • Each year the first full day of Social Justice Week, organized by the CAW-Sam Gindin Chair in Social Justice and Democracy, is now dedicated to Indigenous Sovereignty and Solidarity, and includes panel discussions, a rally and march and sharing circles.
  • An annual TRC Check-In during Social Justice Week has been included as a permanent annual feature in the program line-up. The Check-In provides an update on the progress of the commitments made in the prior year on implementing the various Ryerson TRC initiatives.
  • The Ryerson School of Journalism has responded to the Calls to Action in a special way. In September 2016, Duncan McCue, reporter for CBC’s the National and host of the CBC Radio show Cross-Country Checkup, was appointed as Rogers Visiting Journalist at the school. His role has been to work with the instructors in the school to develop new approaches and educational strategies for reporting Indigenous stories and issues, culminating in new curriculum for students.
  • The School of Journalism began collaborating with Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) to develop material to incorporate Indigenous education into JHR’s 2017 curriculum.
  • Master’s students at the School of Journalism embarked on a digital reporting project inspired by the TRC Calls to Action in areas such as holistic healthcare, criminal justice, preserving languages and fostering new generations of athletes.

Steps Now Underway

In addition, the following initiatives at Ryerson are currently underway:

  • A plaque for the statue of Egerton Ryerson will be unveiled in winter 2018, outlining Ryerson’s participation in the establishment of the residential schools system in Canada and the harm that was caused by the system that robbed many Indigenous Peoples of their culture and left them with psychological, emotional and physical damage.
  • The acknowledgement and display of the Star Blanket that was presented as a gift to Ryerson University by the Aboriginal Education Council in 2013 is being improved.
  • Artwork and sculptures will be installed around the university to enhance the Indigenous campus presence and provide increased educational awareness of the Indigenous presence and history on campus.
  • Signage is being improved to increase the visibility of the Indigenous presence on campus.
  • The staff positions in Ryerson Aboriginal Student Services (RASS), the Aboriginal Human Resources Consultant (AHRC) and the Aboriginal Education Council Coordinator were moved to base budget funding in fall 2017.
  • A full-time EDI/Aboriginal curriculum development consultant position has been funded to develop Aboriginal curriculum resources and content for faculties across campus.
  • The Faculty of Arts has hired an advisor to the dean on Indigenous education to help lead a variety of Indigenous initiatives in the faculty.

Further Steps

And to further steps on the path to reconciliation, Ryerson University leadership will immediately undertake seven key initiatives:

Provide more award and scholarship funding for Indigenous students.

Double the number of Indigenous faculty at Ryerson.

Commit to raise external funding to create a Ryerson Chair in Reconciliation.

Increase the number of Indigenous staf

Provide resources for faculty to Indigenize the curriculum.

Create more pathways for Indigenous students to study at Ryerson.

Designate outdoor space for Indigenous ceremonies