“It’s not just an aboriginal issue. There are so many ways that aboriginal people have not had access to opportunities, and if aboriginal people can’t contribute, we’re all so much the lesser,” says Jonathan Hamilton Diabo. Photo by Johnny Guatto.

U of T to take action on Truth and Reconciliation Commission

University can take “strong leadership role”, says co-chair

University of Toronto President Meric Gertler and Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr have struck a university-wide steering committee in response to the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s challenge to Canadians to engage in an ongoing process of reconciliation.

The committee, co-chaired by Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, director of aboriginal student services at First Nations House and coordinator of U of T’s Council of Aboriginal Initiatives, and Munk School of Global Affairs Director Stephen Toope, has been given a mandate to review the TRC’s 94 calls to action and begin implementing those that are applicable to the University. Elders Lee Maracle and Andrew Wesley will offer guidance and wisdom to the committee, Regehr said.

“All Canadians must demonstrate courage and determination, as we commit to an ongoing process of reconciliation,” the TRC report states. “By establishing a new and respectful relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Canadians, we will restore what must be restored, repair what must be repaired, and return what must be returned.”  

Munk School of Global Affairs Director Stephen Toope, below, is co-chairing the university-wide steering committee in response to the federal Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Photo credit: Lisa Sakulensky and Steve Frost

U of T is prepared to play its part in this reconciliation process, Regehr said. “Given the University of Toronto’s international and national leadership in research and education, it is only fitting that we also take a leadership role in responding to the TRC’s calls for action.” 

Gertler said that the TRC presents an opportunity for the university to demonstrate its engagement with society’s most important and pressing issues. “The Commission has issued a challenge of historic significance to the country. The U of T community is ready and eager to help meet that challenge, and I am grateful to all those involved in the steering committee for their guidance in focusing our efforts.”

The committee is also being asked to review and make recommendations regarding recruitment of and support for Indigenous students, staff and faculty; Indigenous alumni engagement, inclusion of Indigenous content in U of T curriculum, and inclusion of Indigenous issues, research and themes in university programming. The committee, which will begin meeting in February, is being asked to present an interim report by July 1 and final recommendations by December 31. 

The TRC calls to action related specifically to post-secondary education include:
•    Universities to create degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages
•    Medical and nursing schools to require all students to take a course dealing with Aboriginal health issues
•    Law schools to require all students to take a course in Aboriginal people and the law
•    Social workers and others who conduct child-welfare investigations to be properly educated and trained about the history and impacts of residential schools and about the potential for Aboriginal communities and families to provide more appropriate solutions to family healing.

Hamilton-Diabo said he’s looking forward to working with Toope and others on the committee. 

“U of T can play a strong leadership role in responding to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission,” he said. “It sends a very strong message when U of T says that this is important. We have the resources, the expertise. There are good and positive things we can work on.”

Toope agreed that U of T has a significant role to play. “The TRC acknowledged that education is fundamental to promoting both truth and reconciliation. They asked all Canadian institutions to respond.  As Canada’s largest and most prominent university, U of T has an obligation to lead in seeking a new relationship with indigenous peoples. That requires a university-wide effort. The steering committee will try to jump-start a long and complicated process of reflection, deliberation, negotiation, and action.”

There’s a lot of work to be done, Hamilto-Diabo agreed, and the entire university needs to be involved. “It’s not just an aboriginal issue. There are so many ways that aboriginal people have not had access to opportunities, and if aboriginal people can’t contribute, we’re all so much the lesser.”

U of T already has several programs and initiatives relating to Indigenous people in place, including elective courses and programs in Arts and Science, Education, Law, Medicine, Nursing, Pharmacy, Public Health and Social Work. It also offers services and programs through First Nations House, student supports, and university-wide initiatives such as the Council on Aboriginal Initiatives, the Indigenous Language Initiative and the Indigenous Health Sciences Group. U of T’s most recent initiative is the Waakebiness-Bryce Institute for Indigenous Health, established last year as a research institute dedicated to the health of Indigenous Canadians.

Regehr said the committee’s membership has not been finalized yet. Nominations to the committee may be submitted by January 25 to Andrea Russell, director of academic affairs in the Office of the Vice-President and Provost (andrea.russell@utoronto.ca).


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