|From:||Meric Gertler, President
Cheryl Regehr, Vice-President & Provost
|Date:||February 16, 2017|
|Re:||Humility, Responsibility, Opportunity: In Response to the Report of the University of Toronto’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Steering Committee (PDAD&C #62)|
As we embark upon the 150th anniversary of Canada’s confederation, we must prioritize the work that needs to be done before we can truly celebrate Canada as a country that fully recognizes and honours its Indigenous peoples. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has led this work since 2008. It issued its Calls to Action in December 2015, after more than six years of listening, sharing, learning, and reflecting on a troubling part of our history.
This was a turning point for Canada. The Commission joined and then led a national conversation about Canada’s treatment of Indigenous peoples. In offering its calls to action, the Commission pointed the way towards reconciliation.
In January 2016, we struck a University-wide Steering Committee to provide advice on how to implement the Commission’s calls to action, with a particular focus on the calls that were explicitly directed at universities. We received the Steering Committee’s report in a remarkable and moving Entrustment Ceremony on January 13, 2017.
We were honoured and greatly humbled to receive the Committee’s report and the accompanying eagle feather on behalf of the University of Toronto.
The report reflects the Committee’s extraordinary dedication and its leadership in the broader community. We expressed our gratitude to the members of the Committee, its working groups, and contributors at the Entrustment Ceremony; we would like to reiterate that gratitude here.
The members of this Committee, in crafting its report, have dedicated much time and energy. They have considered the University’s mission and the principles that ground our academic community. Undoubtedly, they have struggled with complex, difficult, and emotional questions, contributing their insights, knowledge, and expertise. They have performed a great service for the University of Toronto, for the extended U of T community, and for Canada. For all of these contributions, and for the generosity of spirit with which they are offered, we extend our deepest gratitude.
Challenging but Optimistic
The Commission and the Committee both emphasized that the vital first step towards reconciliation is acknowledging the truth. To its enormous credit, the Committee’s report does not equivocate in this task; the report both confronts and challenges us with the truth. And we must accept this challenge.
The University of Toronto acknowledges its responsibility in contributing to the plight of Indigenous peoples. The Committee’s report does not flinch in its account of this responsibility: by noting how the University was complicit in the oppression of Indigenous peoples, it is a difficult and demanding document. Yet at the same time, the report is also a strikingly optimistic and constructive document. Reaching this balance is a remarkable achievement and it is the foundation upon which the truth and reconciliation process is based. In acknowledging the truth, the University community embraces the opportunity – and indeed its responsibility – to join with Indigenous communities in the collective process of reconciliation.
Calls to Action
The Committee’s report proposes thirty-four calls to action to support the process of reconciliation. These calls to action are divided into six overlapping categories:
- Indigenous Spaces;
- Indigenous Faculty and Staff;
- Indigenous Curriculum;
- Indigenous Research Ethics and Community Relationships;
- Indigenous Students and Indigenous Co-Curricular Education; and
- Institutional Leadership/Implementation.
These proposals are fittingly ambitious and comprehensive, encompassing the entire University of Toronto in their reach across three campuses, seven colleges, twenty Faculties and academic divisions, and dozens of academic units as well as the central administrative portfolios. The process of reconciliation, with the Committee’s report at its core, must inform conversations with Principals, Deans, Chairs, Vice-Presidents, and other leaders both academic and administrative throughout this expansive academic community. Following the spirit of the Committee’s report, we are committed to reconciliation as a collective, participatory, and evolving process engaging Indigenous, academic, administrative, and alumni communities.
It is important to note that the report also includes a “representative scan of ongoing initiatives and programming with Indigenous content or themes that are offered across the University of Toronto”. In doing so, it makes clear that much excellent work is already underway. But the report also makes clear that it is fragmented and often in need of more stable funding. Nevertheless, such efforts represent an important and good-faith foundation that, with proper coordination, support, and focus, can play an influential part in the process of truth and reconciliation.
Building capacity is an essential precondition, a sine qua non, for our collective efforts towards reconciliation. Accordingly, we make the following two commitments as first steps in what the report recognizes will be a long process.
First, we will appoint a Director of Indigenous Initiatives. The Director will have a mandate to coordinate, advise, collaborate, and liaise with academic and non-academic communities addressing the Steering Committee’s calls to action. We will consult with members of the Steering Committee and others as we initiate the search for the Director.
Second, the Committee’s report noted – repeatedly – both that Indigenous members of our community must be more involved in decision-making at every level and that the Indigenous community at the University is too small and, consequently, overextended. This is a dilemma that can be resolved only by building capacity. Therefore, as part of this year’s budget planning process, the University will commit additional resources directly towards hiring more Indigenous faculty and staff, while simultaneously bolstering our efforts to recruit Indigenous students. This initiative is overdue and will commence immediately with discussions with divisions and central leadership to determine how to proceed.
We would like to reiterate our gratitude to the Steering Committee and all of those who have participated, and all those who will participate, in the process of truth and reconciliation at the University of Toronto.
Education and research are among humanity’s greatest forces for good. The University of Toronto is therefore uniquely placed, with a special responsibility to acknowledge the truth and to foster reconciliation. We commit to doing so.