(By: Sherina Harris)
Doubling Ryerson’s number of Indigenous faculty, creating a fund to support the Indigenization of course content and designating an outdoor space for Indigenous ceremonies were among the new initiatives announced at the presentation of Ryerson’s long-awaited Truth and Reconciliation community consultation report on Friday, Jan. 26.
The report, titled Truth and Reconciliation at Ryerson: Building a Foundation for Generations to Come is the product of two years of consultations, which included “group and panel discussions, talking circles, formal keynote addresses and class assignments,” according to a media advisory.
“Given the themes, goals and suggestions we heard from our community consultation that were articulated in this report, we are confident that it provides a positive way forward,” said Denise O’Neil Green, Ryerson’s vice president, equity and inclusion.
She added that Ryerson “has reached a milestone” with the release of its report.
Ryerson President Mohamed Lachemi and Provost and Vice President, Academic, Michael Benarroch, were wrapped in an Aboriginal Star Blanket. The blanket was gifted to the president and provost in 2010 by Ryerson’s Aboriginal Education Council to mark the beginning of a new relationship.
The audience applauded as the two were wrapped in the blanket, and again as they were presented with the report.
“Ryerson has what it takes to make a difference. We can put our expertise in education, research, scholarship, community engagement, to work on the challenges of reconciliation,” said Lachemi.
He outlined seven initiatives that will begin immediately at Ryerson: doubling the number of Indigenous faculty, increasing the number of Indigenous staff, creating more pathways for Indigenous students, increasing scholarship funding for Indigenous students, working to Indigenize curriculum, creating an outdoor space for Indigenous ceremonies and creating funding for a Chair in reconciliation.
“Every one of us, each student, each faculty member and instructor, each member of staff, must make their own commitment to reconciliation,” Lachemi said. “Ryerson knows that education is the key to reconciliation.”
To implement the recommendations in the report, there will be ongoing consultations. A working group “will be tasked with developing a plan based on the recommendations,” said Benarroch. Their report will be submitted by June 2018, he said.
In addition to revealing the report, a plaque to be placed at the Egerton Ryerson statue on campus was also unveiled.
“When I walked down Gould Street and saw a monument of Egerton Ryerson, I felt that the pain and trauma of my ancestors was being silenced. I would look around the street, searching for faces that knew the truth that I was seeing, and I felt alone,” said Danielle Sinclair, a graduate of Ryerson’s social work program and one of the students involved in the creation of the plaque.
“The truth-telling plaque we are going to be revealing will not change the way a lot of us still feel about the statue of Ryerson being held up so high,” said Sarah Dennis, a second-year social work student who was also involved in creating the plaque. “However, it certainly has the capacity to be an effective contribution towards informing the public of a false idol that is embedded with very violent implications.”
“This day is a turning point in the history of our university. The path to reconciliation has begun. We are moving forward together with confidence,” President Lachemi said towards the end of the presentation.
Elder Joanne Dallaire spoke last.
“This was a very humbling experience for me,” she said. “I think it was very humbling for all of us, especially those of us who are Indigenous. It means more to us than we can tell you.”