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A journey of truth and reconciliation

To mark the one-year anniversary of Ryerson’s response to the TRC, three leaders reflect on accomplishments and what’s ahead
January 31, 2019
Hollee George carries the Two Spirit eagle staff (centre) and Monica McKay carries the Ryerson Eagle staff (right) during the Grand Entry at the Ryerson Pow Wow

The Grand Entry at the Ryerson Pow Wow 2018 was one of the events that came out of the Truth and Reconciliation community response. Here, Hollee George carries the Two Spirit eagle staff (centre) and Monica McKay carries the Ryerson Eagle staff (right). Photo: Kaytee Dalton.

A year after Ryerson University shared its report Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson: Building a Foundation for Generations to Come, the TRC Strategic Planning Group continues to make substantial progress, say the three co-chairs.

The TRC Strategic Planning Group is prioritizing activities under the broad themes identified in the Building a Foundation for Generations to Come report and developing an integrated action plan. Themes expressed in the recommendations include Indigenizing teaching and learning practices, improving support for Indigenous learners, and increasing Indigenous staff and faculty. Collectively, these initiatives will strengthen the Indigenous community and provide greater visibility on campus, which will impact how the university prioritizes, coalesces and implements the recommendations.  

Led by campus Elder Joanne Dallaire, Ryerson’s Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion Denise O’Neil Green, and Provost and Vice-President, Academic Michael Benarroch, the TRC Strategic Planning Group is made up of more than 30 Indigenous and non-Indigenous representatives from across the university.

“The committee is a direct result of the report, a direct result of a lot of work done, setting out how we’re going to be working on the 50 recommendations,” said Joanne Dallaire, Shadow Hawk Woman of the Wolf Clan. “I like the diversity of it, I like the professionalism of it, and I like the fact that everyone is solution-focused. Everyone is working together.”

“It’s the first time that the entire campus has worked in earnest to move forward with truth and reconciliation,” said Denise O’Neil Green, Ryerson’s vice-president, equity, and community inclusion. “We all gathered together to move forward and transform this university with a goal of making it more inclusive of Indigenous students, faculty and staff.”

“Together with my co-chairs Joanne Dallaire and Denise O’Neil Green, I’m particularly proud of the level of engagement demonstrated by our community,” said Provost Michael Benarroch. “This is important work, and it is exciting to see the dedication and creative ideas that have evolved.”

Over the past year, thanks to the hard work of students, faculty and staff, a number of initiatives have unfolded. Last summer, the university installed a plaque contextualizing Egerton Ryerson’s role in the creation of Canada’s residential school system. The plaque symbolizes Ryerson’s commitment to ongoing reconciliation and was placed next to the statue of Egerton Ryerson. In September, the Ryerson Pow Wow returned to campus with a theme of Honouring our Past, Reaching for our Future, a nod to the first Ryerson Pow Wow which took place 20 years ago.

“I’m pleased to share that Ryerson has set aside funds specifically for Indigenous faculty renewals and has earmarked a number of scholarships for Indigenous students,” Benarroch said. “Also, through the Avie Bennett scholarship program, we have welcomed more than 40 Indigenous students to Ryerson and look forward to seeing them thrive.”

Recently, new Indigenous staff and faculty members have joined Ryerson, including Lynn Lavallée, FCS Strategic Lead, Indigenous Resurgence; Angela DeMontigny, Designer-in-Residence, School of Fashion; social work professors Shane Young, Heather Green and Jeffrey McNeil-Seymour; and Amber Sandy, Indigenous knowledge and science outreach co-ordinator. Damien Lee, who is non-native by birth and raised Anishinaabe, external link by his family, joined the sociology department as an assistant professor. 

In addition, Ryerson opened a new staff and faculty well-being lounge in November 2018 that includes Indigenous elements as part of ongoing work to Indigenize the campus. The name Ahnoowehpeekahmik (pronounced ah-new-weh-peek-ah-mik) means ‘a safe place to rest’ in Cree, and was provided by Elder Joanne Dallaire who is Cree Omushkego.

Committed community members have been dedicated to providing access and support for Indigenous students, faculty and staff for many years. The intention of the university is to continue to embed the recommendations from the community report into Ryerson’s culture. “I look forward to hearing people say, ‘Ryerson is a university that is taking the TRC report seriously, and is contributing positively to the community and to Canada,’” said Benarroch.

“My long-term vision is to have a critical mass of Indigenous students – undergraduate and graduate – and Indigenous faculty who are part of all faculties,” said Green. “I would also like to see a critical mass of Indigenous staff. These additions will change this university.”

Dallaire echoed those thoughts. “We’re planting good seeds. Departments and faculties at the university are stepping up to honour the Indigenous history, the land and its people. It’s an ongoing acknowledgement of our true history, the history of this land and the respect for those members of our community.”

This story has been updated to clarify the social location of Damien Lee and to include other new faculty who are Indigenous. 

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