Ryerson University president Mohamed Lachemi says a plaque recognizing Indigenous people will be added to the controversial Egerton Ryerson statue.
The campus statue has been the centre of controversy for years.
Ryerson, the educator for whom the university is named, played a part in the establishment of the residential school system.
Petitions have been created for the statue’s removal, but none have been succesful.
Over the summer, the Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) reopened the issue and demanded that the statue be removed.
In an interview with the Ryersonian on Monday, Lachemi said the university would work with the Indigenous community to put up a plaque with the statue that includes references to Egerton Ryerson’s past.
The RSU, the Indigenous Students’ Association and the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR) had earlier this year made a list of demands that included the removal of the statue, the changing of the university’s name and the mandatory inclusion of Indigenous content in all programs.
RSU president Susanne Nyaga said they will continue to push for the statue’s removal. They will meet with Lachemi on Sept. 29 to revisit previously made demands and discuss next steps.
“It’s all of us working together to create a better space for Indigenous students,” Nyaga said.
Ryerson was a prominent 19th century Canadian who played an influential role in the education sector.
In 1847, he outlined his idea for a school that would teach native children how to become farm labourers. These institutions, which he referred to as industrial or manual schools, became the underlying foundation for what we know today as residential schools.
Nyaga said she hopes Indigenous students would be able go through school without having to worry about the statue and its representation of colonization.
“This is a problem,” Nyaga said. “It’s making campus unsafe for Indigenous students. We’re just moving forward in supporting Indigenous folks as much as we can.”
Right now, Lachemi doesn’t have any plans for the removal of the statue.
“I’m an engineer, I like to build things, not to destroy things,” said Lachemi. “I think we recognized the mistakes made. That’s part of our history and we have to make sure that we don’t delete that part of our history.
“I would rather spend efforts, time and money to give more opportunities to Indigenous people,” he said.
The Indigenous Students’ Association did not respond to requests for a comment.
With files from Melissa Bennardo and Ben Shelley