This June the University of Toronto is celebrating National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day on June 21st. This comes at a time when the hard truths of history, past and present, are shaking the foundations of our society, demonstrating a greater need to listen, to learn and to act in partnership with Indigenous peoples. Recently, we learned of the remains of 215 Indigenous children at the Kamloops Indian Residential School and we grieve the loss of these children, their stories, and their contributions to Indigenous communities in Tk’emlúpste Secwépemc territory and beyond. Throughout National Indigenous History Month and on National Indigenous Peoples Day, U of T will be creating space for Indigenous peoples to give voice to their experiences and to collectively celebrate and learn about Indigenous cultures.
The Day and Month came about after much advocacy and support from Indigenous communities to recognize and commemorate the rich and diverse cultures, languages, stories and experiences of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. Celebrated officially since 1996, National Indigenous Peoples Day coincides with the summer solstice or longest day of the year, a time that holds significance for many Indigenous peoples and communities. June was declared National Indigenous History Month in 2009, and this year, the Government of Canada dedicated the month to the missing children, the families left behind, and the survivors of residential schools.
This time of recognition provides an opportunity for us to reflect on our roles in the ongoing process of reconciliation. It is our collective responsibility to recognize and challenge the systemic oppression of Indigenous peoples, and seek to change harmful mindsets rooted in colonial attitudes. We can take further steps to address the inter-generational effects of colonialism that continue to impact Indigenous communities.
The University remains committed to addressing the U of T TRC Calls to Action outlined in Answering the Call: Wecheehetowin, released in early 2017. The Office of Indigenous Initiatives publishes an annual progress report that documents how the University of Toronto is implementing the calls to action across all three campuses. Part of this work involves creating or planning Indigenous spaces across our three campuses and at our affiliated sites, such as the Indigenous Educational Research Centre at OISE, the Gathering Place at Women’s College Hospital, Indigenous House at U of T Scarborough, and a prominent outdoor space on St. George campus that coincides with the Landmark Project. The University also created forums for discussing pressing Indigenous issues, such as the three-day Indigenous Health Conference hosted by the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and a series of sessions launched by the Indigenous Centre at the University of Toronto Mississauga to explore the 231 Calls for Justice by the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. While in-person events are still not possible, we have only to look at the incredible tri-campus engagement with the Indigenous Student Graduation Ceremony — which celebrated Indigenous students who are graduating in 2021, or who have completed another important milestone in their academic careers — for confirmation that virtual programming can bring the U of T community together in record numbers, and with great success.
A list of upcoming National Indigenous History Month and National Indigenous Peoples Day events across our three campuses will be available on the Office of Indigenous Initiatives website. I encourage all U of T community members to actively participate in these virtual events and celebrations.
Resources & Support
Resources are available to Indigenous members of our community who need additional support. This week, the Office of Indigenous Initiatives will be hosting a Sharing Circle where Indigenous staff, faculty, and librarians can come together to share, reflect, and restore. Details will be emailed directly to Indigenous community members. A list of other supports and programming for staff, faculty, and librarians will be available shortly on the Office of Indigenous Initiatives website. The Indigenous Student Services at First Nations House are making additional resources and support available for our Indigenous students. Anishnaabe knowledge keeper and healer James Carpenter will be facilitating Sharing Circles for Indigenous students this Tuesday, June 1, and Wednesday, June 2 from 4 pm to 5 pm via Zoom. Indigenous U of T Students canregister for the Sharing Circle on the CLNX website.
For those who are struggling and who need support, I encourage you to contact the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, Indigenous Student Services at First Nations House, and Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Offices at UTSC and UTM so we can help connect you with the appropriate resources. Employees have 24/7 access to counselling and other mental health support via our Employee & Family Assistance Program. Students can access supports through Indigenous Student Services and My SSP.