Panelists Jane Griffith, Eve Tuck, Jean Paul Restoule, Sandra Styres and Tanya Senk.

Panelists Jane Griffith, Eve Tuck, Jean Paul Restoule, Sandra Styres and Tanya Senk.

By Nicole Latulippe
TORONTO – “Reconciliation is not an Aboriginal problem; it is a Canadian one”. Those words by Justice Murray Sinclair prompted a discussion panel at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) aiming to explore the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) calls to action in education and research.

OISE is not the only public institution looking to begin the process of reconciliation through education. The province of Ontario is introducing mandatory Indigenous cultural sensitivity and anti-racism training for all public service employees. They also announced plans to include the impacts of residential schools; the history of colonization; and the importance of treaties within public school curriculum.

It was standing room only as students, faculty, and members of the wider urban Aboriginal community gathered for the first of what’s expected to be a series of ongoing conversations about implementing the “calls to action” – distinct from “recommendations” that too often gather dust on the shelf. Key themes were personal accountability, strengthened relationships, and institutional change.

Jean Paul Restoule, Anishinaabe from Dokis First Nation, spoke of empowerment. “All people are implicated in colonial relationships, but each person can make a difference.”

Echoing Sinclair, other Indigenous panelists and OISE affiliates Eve Tuck, Tanya Senk, and Sandra Styres challenged everyone to pick at least one call to action that reflects whatever sphere of influence they might inhabit and to implement that action, both personally and professionally, until it is fully realized.

Panelists spoke of the need to eliminate systemic barriers that prevent Aboriginal people from working in education. It was heard that institutional support is needed to reposition Metis, Inuit, and First Nations worldviews, perspectives, and histories as central in education and research. T

Given its role in colonization, education holds the key to reconciliation. But panelists cautioned against simple, tokenistic appeals to reconciliation, and cultural tourism. Some said the university has work to do and that Indigenous faculty and students can’t be expected to shoulder the burden of reconciliation.

Jane Griffith spoke of the long, hard fought battles lead by Aboriginal peoples to establish the TRC and warned against the treatment of residential schools as past event rather than ongoing structure.
Styres said that even though not everyone is part of a treaty, we are all Treaty people. Everyone is affected in some way by the treaty relationship. For Senk, there is an opportunity to re-conceptualize this relationship and to uphold the dignity of Indigenous peoples in Canada through frameworks such as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Sinclair has said, “If you thought the truth was hard, reconciliation will be harder.” With universities needing to create institutional cultures ready for change, senior administration, faculty and students at OISE are moving to make this happen.

The Native Students’ Association at the University of Toronto is petitioning to bring mandatory Indigenous studies courses to Canada’s largest University.

What will you do?

Deepening Knowledge Project, OISE’s Aboriginal Peoples Curricula Database: http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/deepeningknowledge/

OISE will be posting a recording of the event on their website: http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/ien/Events.html