With tremendous sadness, we mark the passing of the extraordinary Lee Maracle—poet, author, member of U of T’s Elders Circle, former Traditional Teacher-in-Residence at the Indigenous Student Services, and a former instructor at U of T’s Centre for Indigenous Studies and the Transitional Year Programme. Across all three campuses, we are lowering University of Toronto flags to half-mast on November 15, 2021 as a sign of our profound respect for Lee and our gratitude for the incredible contributions she has made to this University; to the students she mentored and taught here; and to all members of the U of T community who have been fortunate to work with her and receive her guidance.
As President Meric Gertler notes, “Lee Maracle was a remarkable and much-loved member of our community. Her warmth and humour were infectious. Her achievements as an author and poet were justly celebrated. Her commitment to making the University of Toronto a more inclusive and welcoming place for Indigenous students, staff, faculty and librarians was unwavering. She leaves a lasting impact for the better, and her loss will be acutely felt. Our deepest sympathies go out to her loved ones and the many friends and colleagues affected by her passing.”
Outspoken and unsparing in her criticism of Canada’s historical and ongoing relationship with Indigenous peoples, Lee Maracle held Canada to account for doing the hard work of dismantling colonialism, not simply speaking the language of reconciliation. At U of T, she devoted countless hours to advising our own Truth and Reconciliation Commission Steering Committee, whose final report Lee and fellow Elder Andrew Wesley aptly named Wecheehetowin: Answering the Call. This Report guides our efforts to make the University of Toronto a place where all members of our community recognize the enormity of the crimes that have been—and continue to be—committed against Indigenous peoples; where Indigenous knowledges are respected; and where Indigenous students, staff, faculty, and librarians feel valued, heard, and empowered.
Lee Maracle once said that “Words have power. They have impact, they’re sacred and they last forever. Words can’t leave the atmosphere, they bounce around, they go around the earth and hit the same spot again.” Lee’s words are among her greatest legacies, not only to the University of Toronto community, but also to this world. Her words alternately prompt our conscience, open our imaginations, leave us breathless with their impact, and make us accountable to each other as human beings.
On behalf of the University of Toronto, I extend my deepest sympathies to Lee’s family, friends, and community, and hope that all of us will continue to listen to—and act upon—the words she has left us.