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Members of the Ryerson community want more indigenous content on campus.
This is a major takeaway from the latest series of discussions hosted on campus as part of the university’s response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) report.
“I have taken a course, called critical issues, that touched on indigenous peoples for about 10 minutes,” said Kyle Edwards, a fourth-year journalism student, who attended one of the discussions. “Other than that, I haven’t seen anything else.”
Edwards, who is Ojibwa, said he attended one of the discussions to share his concerns and experiences as a student.
The discussions — or talking circles — are part of ongoing efforts at Ryerson to respond to the TRC report released last year, which has 94 calls to action, including several directed at post-secondary institutions.
The TRC was tasked with gathering information and promoting awareness about the Indian Residential School system as part of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement.
The circles, which began in May, bring together members of the Ryerson Aboriginal community, students, staff and faculty. Five circles were held in October, including one attended by Toronto Aboriginal agencies on Monday. All were closed to the media.
Despite growing up on a reserve (Lake Manitoba First Nation), Edwards knows first-hand how absent indigenous content is in the education system, having attended a public school. He said he wishes he’d had the opportunity to learn his language, Anishinaabemowin.
“Here at Ryerson, I think it’s important that there are quality courses that we can take [in] indigenous history and languages,” he said.
This fall, the G. Raymond Chang School of Continuing Education began offering the Aboriginal knowledges and experiences certificate. However, according to Sarah Dennis, a Ryerson student who is Anishinaabe, because the program only runs evening classes, access is limited. Dennis said she raised this concern during the talking circle.
“We also talked about the elective courses in all of the programs across all of the departments and making one course that is core and mandatory for everybody to take that would bring awareness to the experiences of indigenous peoples in Canada,” said Dennis.
She said she hopes to see the university and community members “be serious” about responding to the TRC.
“I just think there is a disconnect between the TRC initiatives and what this institution [Ryerson] should be committed to and it’s an issue. I think I just want to see people really connect with the importance of this and just really be on board, even if it is faking it until you’re making it,” she said. “It just needs to happen.”
Comments from Dennis, Edwards and other talking circle attendees will contribute to a report that will eventually be submitted to the president of the university and provost academic. Both the report and talking circles are overseen by the Aboriginal Education Centre, Aboriginal Elder Joanne Dallaire and Denise O’Neil Green, assistant vice-provost of equity, diversion and inclusion at Ryerson.
O’Neil Green said in an email that there has been “a modest turn out and high levels of interest” at the talking circles.
She said student participation is extremely important to the process. “It gives us an opportunity to learn about their university experiences, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, and their thoughts about the calls to action and how they can be implemented at Ryerson.”
Progress on campus toward truth and reconciliation predates the TRC report, according to Cheryl Trudeau, co-ordinator of the Aboriginal Education Council. One example is the establishment of the council itself in 2010 as part of the university’s Aboriginal Post-Secondary Education and Training Action Plan.
Trudeau added that the school supports curriculum development and senior administration participates in these consultations.
“It’s important to all Canadians. All Canadians should know the truth of the past history and current situation of indigenous peoples,” she said.
There is no date set for when the advisory council will release its report. However, Trudeau said, “Work is being done and when it happens, everyone will get to know.”
As for the biggest takeaway from this series of talking circles, O’Neil Green’s answer was clear: “Members of our community are expecting action.”