Critics of the Egerton Ryerson statue haven’t given up the fight to have the landmark removed from campus, despite the installation of a plaque this past June.
Community members say they are not satisfied with the university’s decision to use a plaque to recognize cultural genocide.
The Aboriginal Education Council asked Ryerson administration about removing the Egerton Ryerson statue from campus and was told if an alternative location could be found for it, then it could happen, according to Cindy Baskin, chair of the AEC.
Ryerson could not confirm this.
Olson Crow, a Métis student of Haudenosaunee descent, and a member of the Indigenous Students’ Association’s executive team and Indigenous Students Rising, met with Ryerson administration on Sept. 6 to discuss the presence of the statue on campus.
“If we can find an alternative location for the statue [off campus], they’ll consider removing it,” Crow said, referring to talks they’ve had with the university.
Alternative locations for the statue means places such as museums, historical societies or different institutions, he added.
Hiding the statue in Ryerson’s archives is another option Indigenous Students Rising is open to.
Who decides to keep the Egerton Ryerson statue on campus, however, remains a subject of inquiry for community members working toward the statue’s removal.
Neither Ryerson University’s administration, nor the student union, can answer if it’s the president or a board that ultimately decides whether to remove the statue from campus.
The plaque was one of the recommendations in Ryerson’s community consultation report, which was part of a response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. It contextualizes Egerton Ryerson’s “role in the creation of Canada’s residential school system,” the school says.
The Ryersonian asked Ryerson’s administration who ultimately decides whether to keep the statue on campus, and what the bureaucratic process for this looks like.
In a statement, it didn’t directly answer that question, saying: “As of this time no decisions have been made on the statue. We are very proud of the work our community, including our students, have done with the new plaque to acknowledge Ryerson’s connection to Residential Schools and emphasize the university’s commitment to respectful relationships with Indigenous communities. We are always open to hearing from our students when they have concerns or suggestions.”
The ISA, along with Indigenous Students Rising and the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson are working toward having the statue removed, Crow said.
Who or what makes the decision for taking the statue down is something Crow and his colleagues are still trying to determine.
“We’re unsure if it’s the president that has final say or if it’s the board, but we are definitely still pushing for removal,” said Crow adding that the Office of the Vice-President, Equity and Community Inclusion also seemed confused about the decision-making process.
The university is having a series of meetings with community members about the statue. According to Crow, who is discussing with students what occurred at the university’s last meeting, the next date has not been set.
“As of right now, there is really no concrete answer on what’s happening with the statue,” said Crow.
Speaking for himself, Crow said he views the plaque as a stepping stone to ultimately having the statue removed.
Crow also suggested to the Ryerson Students’ Union that it create a board seat for an Indigenous student so the RSU has representation from the Indigenous community on campus.
An RSU committee is reviewing the proposal, according to RSU president Ram Ganesh, who said they will be presenting the proposal at an upcoming board meeting.
“As a non-Indigenous student, I don’t have the lived experiences when it comes to having a larger conversation about colonialism and its effects on Indigenous students and people in their day-to-day life,” said Ganesh.
After speaking with community members on campus over the summer, Ganesh said RSU plans will filter into three areas to broaden their scope for getting more Indigenous students involved.
The vice-president equity and the social justice committee will be running an educational series throughout the year, talking to students about Indigenous cultures and Canada’s colonial history.
That will include talking about the role Egerton Ryerson played in the establishment of the residential school system.
Additionally, the RSU’s human resource manager is developing a feasibility report on hiring more Indigenous students to work at the RSU, Ganesh added.
“When it comes to Egerton Ryerson and the statue on campus, we’re with Ryerson University and the rest of the students office and want to facilitate safer spaces for students to have these conversations and sit down and talk about how they feel about it,” said Ganesh.
Ganesh added that he’s not fully educated on what the decision-making body looks like in terms of whether to remove the statue from campus.
“I’m assuming it would have something to do with campus facilities or campus space planning, and the Ryerson university admin,” he said. “It’s going to have to be a collaborative decision.
“In terms of who would be the exact decision making body, I am not fully aware.”