Ryerson’s namesake was a man who minced no words in his views on cultural and spiritual superiority. In an 1847 letter, Egerton Ryerson stated that nothing can be done to “improve and elevate” the character of Indigenous people, without the help of “religious feeling.”
Now, decades later, universities are taking steps toward recognizing the need for more relevant and properly contextualized Indigenous content in the curriculum. But this means that journalism needs to do more when it comes to reporting on Indigenous peoples, stories, and issues, said Marie Wilson, one of three commissioners of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC).
Wilson came to Ryerson to deliver the school’s annual Atkinson Lecture on Feb. 1. Wilson addressed Canada’s 130-year history of residential schools, along with what role journalists can play in reconciliation.
Before Wilson was a commissioner of the TRC she was a journalist. Before she was a journalist, as a young child, she wanted to be a teacher. Her Grade 2 teacher inspired her, by showing love for all of her students, Wilson said.
What Wilson didn’t know then was how many residential students in Canada weren’t shown that same love by their teachers. “They were preyed upon by their teachers. Injured physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally by their teachers,” Wilson said.
Journalists are teachers, Wilson said. One of the calls to action outlined in the TRC report, released in December, focuses solely on the role of journalism programs and media schools to teach students about Canada’s history of colonialism.
Candace Maracle, award-winning filmmaker and freelance journalist from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, also spoke and emphasized the obligation journalists have to speak truth to power structures.
“The onus does not rest solely on my shoulders as an Indigenous woman. It’s all journalists jobs to create a more informed Canada.”