On September 30th, everything from Edmonton Oilers jerseys to a jack-o-lantern tee could be seen around campus as students showed their support for the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation.
“It’s about spreading awareness,” said first-year Humber student Sayenthen Gnanaratnam. “We want the government to see that this is important to us.”
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation was established by the federal government in June, days after a mass grave was discovered on the former site of a residential school in B.C. At the time, the University of Guelph-Humber issued a statement of solidarity with the victims and encouraged affected students to contact support networks. Now, the school is making an effort to improve its Indigenous education: Jason Seright, Humber’s Dean of Indigenous Education and Engagement, is involved in an effort to ensure that all programs at Guelph-Humber include a component of Indigenous-focused study.
“We’re making it a safe and open place where people feel comfortable and providing them some education,” he says. “I think individuals are very respectful but at the same time they don’t want to disrespect or hurt anybody, and they need that safe open place to sort of explore some of the questions they might have.”
According to Mr. Seright, Humber College and the University of Guelph-Humber have around 500 Indigenous students on their records, but the number is probably higher. Students “may not be aware of their heritage or may not want to identify as Indigenous, so our stats and records don’t reflect the true population,” he says. “That’s something we’re definitely working on.”
George Bragues, Guelph-Humber’s interim vice-provost, seems to agree that providing Indigenous-focused education is crucial. In the school’s virtual session for Orange Shirt Day, he discussed the current curriculum reviews and announced a new staff-only course called Four Seasons of Reconciliation, an initiative from the First Nations University of Canada, to promote “a renewed relationship between Indigenous peoples and settler Canadians.” This will bolster the school’s existing classes and initiatives, such as its course “Indigenous Mental Health: A Global Perspective,” which is available to psychology students.
It’s not surprising that Guelph-Humber’s psychology department is conscious of these issues: Program Head Dr. David Danto is a clinical psychologist with extensive experience studying and working with Indigenous communities in Canada. In Guelph-Humber’s virtual dialogue, Dr. Danto discussed the necessity of keeping these issues in the public consciousness, saying “The work of reconciliation is the work of every Canadian…On this day all of us can be thankful for the opportunity to engage in reflection as we consider where we are on the path toward reconciliation, and what actions we will take to right the injustices of the past and the present.”
Casiah Cagan, a fourth-year psychology student at Guelph-Humber, has been mindful of Indigenous issues after taking the school’s Indigenous Studies course in her second year. Discussing the new holiday, she said “It’s a step in the right direction: coming super late, but hopefully a day like this will help people to do the research and learn more.” It won’t be easy, she acknowledges, but will require a group effort among all of the students and staff: “Using allyship we might be able to actually get something done.”