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Walking tours now being offered on campus are teaching about little-known Indigenous history that is directly connected to Ryerson University and the surrounding area.
“Ryerson, Toronto and Canadian history first of all begins with Indigenous history,” said Jeremie Caribou, a half-Cree, half-Mohawk walking tour leader. He is a mature student in his third year studying public administration and governance at Ryerson.
During his tours, Caribou leads groups to specific locations near and on campus to explain their historical ties and significance to Indigenous culture and history.
“When it comes to Indigenous past, present and settler relations, I think it’s important to be learning on the actual land,” said Harald Bauder, a Ryerson professor who initially proposed for the tours to be established on campus. “A tour that connects you to the land, is a much more effective way than sitting in a classroom and talking about these relationships,” he said.
Bauder, who has been teaching in the immigration and settlement studies graduate program for more than a decade, said “the curriculum [in the program] was missing the connection between immigration and Indigenous presence.
“The people who formed the program probably thought of immigration as people arriving and settlement as people living in Canada. I think we need to rethink this concept of settlement and think in terms of settler colonialism,” Bauder added. “Immigrants are settlers, and without that, this land would still be controlled by Indigenous people.”
Bauder said he wants to reconceptualize the term “settler” for his graduate students through Indigenous-led educational tours.
In February 2018, he submitted a proposal to the Faculty of Arts outlining a request for funding to hire two research assistants, one of them being Indigenous, to gather information on content for the tours. In March 2018, the proposal was approved and Caribou was hired as a research assistant, along with Rachel Reesor, one of Bauder’s graduate students, to develop a tour program.
According to Caribou, the research used to conduct the tours was gathered from journal articles, government reports, eyewitness accounts and cultural ceremonies. They eventually compiled a resource document outlining information about Indigenous-related history connected to Ryerson and downtown Toronto.
Once his employment term was over, Bauder gave Caribou the opportunity to further develop the tour on his own terms.
“I wanted to be involved in accelerating reconciliation,” said Caribou. “To advance my people from the social issues that come from oppressiveness, such as loss of identity, suicide and addiction. I wanted to be a part of advancing my tribe and my people’s rights,” he said.
This past summer, Caribou led a series of tours through his work plan during a student placement at Ryerson’s Social Innovation Office.
Tours generally start at the Student Learning Centre. Here, Caribou talks about how Yonge and Dundas Streets were a part of key trading routes used by Indigenous people before settlers arrived.
Next, the tours visits the rocks at Lake Devo, where attendees learn about the importance of stones to Indigenous culture. “Knowledge between Indigenous people were shared through rock art,” Caribou said. The tour then goes on to the statue of Egerton Ryerson, where his role in the establishment of residential schools is explained.
The tour ends at an Indigenous star quilt exhibit located in the lobby of Jorgenson Hall. At this point, Caribou says he emphasizes reconciliation and the efforts Ryerson puts toward it in conjunction with Indigenous members of the local community.
“I attended the tour three times, and each time I learned something new,” said Jocelyn Courneya, one of Caribou’s co-workers.
“The first time I attended [a tour] was for a social exchange program for some visiting students from the U.K. There was a lot of use of the word ‘colonization,’ and ‘colonization in Canada.’ Jeremie was opening up a whole new world of knowledge to them,” said Courneya. “Seeing them have that experience, and Ryerson students as well, honestly was a huge highlight as a staff [member],” she said.
Courneya also noted that “there were gaps” in her knowledge on some of the Indigenous history that Caribou was speaking about.
Olivia Gemma, another participant who said she felt a lack of knowledge, said, “I think tours like this give you the opportunity to gain this knowledge and ask questions with people that actually know how to answer it. I don’t need a white professor with no Indigenous history, blood, anything in them to be telling me about Indigenous history.”
Caribou blames the educational system for leaving out the Indigenous narrative in history lessons. “The aspect of Indigenous history and the relationship we have with non-Indigenous people should be common knowledge,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to come to university and do primary and secondary research to learn the truth.”
Gemma says that members of the provincial government have attended the tour, and even they were not aware of some of the information being shared.
“It’s better than picking up a book. Jeremie’s tours are a lot more than that; it’s aggressive, and it’s honest and true conviction,” said Gemma. “Some moments it was really tough to hear some of the knowledge and personal stories that Jeremie was sharing,” she said.
Bauder, the professor who introduced the idea for the tours on campus, is teaching a graduate class next September that includes attending one of Caribou’s walking tours as a mandatory component.
For now, Indigenous walking tours are pre-scheduled for specific events, such as Social Justice Week and Indigenous Education Week. However, faculty and staff are encouraged to reach out to Caribou to use the tour to bring context into their own programs.
“I feel like it’s your moral imperative to go on this walk,” said Gemma. “We’re all about saying, ‘We think there should be reconciliation,’ and that’s really great, but are we taking part in it? It’s one thing to say something and another thing to show up.”