Where truth begins: starting reconciliation efforts from a place of honesty at the University of Toronto

From the article by Grace King published by The Strand on February 4, 2017:

A discussion with Traditional Teacher Lee Maracle and various voices of Indigenous Education Week 2017 on the “calls to action” in the UofT Truth and Reconciliation Steering Committee’s final report 

A stretch of window hugs the hallway in the First Nations House. Along the window’s ledge, from left to right, a row of green plants stand shoulder to shoulder. Their leaves reach beyond the window-frame, spilling into the open light of the hall. For one moment, here, these plants compel the passerby to pause. Where does growth begin?  

The “House” is actually a single floor in a building shared with two other centres and the Campus Mail Service. No signage outside calls attention to the FNH’s presence within. UofT maps refer to the three-story space as the North Borden Building—a name that, rather than reflecting any of the organizations inside the walls, refers to a long-forgotten dairy company that once occupied the property.

Lee Maracle, a Traditional Teacher at FNH and a member of the Stó:lō Nation, spoke to The Strand in her office—just down the hall from the plants on that windowsill. Maracle is an advisor to UofT’s Steering Committee for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, which comprises over fifteen Indigenous scholars, students, and specialists. This January saw the official release of the TRC Steering Committee’s final report to President Meric Gertler, marked with a special ceremony at Hart House.

The report, which was commissioned by Gertler in response to a nation-wide report on reconciliation by the TRC of Canada in 2015, investigated five Terms of Reference at UofT regarding reconciliation: the recruitment and support of Indigenous students, staff, and faculty at all three campuses; the engagement and involvement of Indigenous alumni; the inclusion of Indigenous curriculum content throughout University programs; the enhancement of Indigenous-focused courses and programs; and the inclusion of Indigenous themes in the University’s programming. From the findings of these investigations, the TRC formulated 34 “Calls to Action” for reconciliation efforts at UofT.

“Nothing about us, without us,” Maracle said of the central message behind these “Calls to Action.” She explained, “I don’t think people should start doing projects and then invite us in once it’s all organized, knowing they’ve decided all that they’re going to do. I don’t think that’s a good way to go. I think that’s a colonial way to go—and a lot of people are doing just that. That’s what residential school was—it was someone else deciding what was good for us. And that turned out not so well.”

The report states that as a national and global leader in education, UofT must address and accept the entirety of the past. From its opening paragraphs, it makes it clear that the truth, and only the truth, will lay the necessary foundation for reconciliation; “The University of Toronto must acknowledge frankly that it has historically been an instrument of oppression of Indigenous peoples.”

UofT may not have participated in the direct implementation of residential schools, yet the University was still a participant in the system. The TRC explains that the University educated the “generations of political leaders, policy makers, teachers, civil servants, and many others” who became proponents for the abuse and oppression happening in residential schools. Even after the harm and damage of the residential schooling system became widely known, the University did not urge its strong research faculties to investigate.

Click here to read the complete article.