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University of Guelph-Humber marks the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

The University of Guelph-Humber community gathered Sept. 30 to mark the first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and Orange Shirt Day with a virtual session exploring the history and horrors of the Residential School system in Canada, as well as how to further recognize and support reconciliation efforts and Indigenous communities across the country.

Featuring words from Humber College's Dean of Indigenous Education and Engagement (IE&E), Jason Seright, as well as UofGH’s Interim Vice-Provost Dr. George Bragues and Psychology Program Head Dr. David Danto, the virtual session was an opportunity to remember, recognize and reflect on the tragic legacy of the Residential School System in Canada, as well as the ongoing trauma and harm inflicted on Indigenous Peoples, families, and communities.

“This holiday was created to commemorate the tragic legacy of Residential Schools, a painful part of Canadian history that significantly impacts Indigenous people and communities – and all of us – to this day,” Seright said. “The University of Guelph-Humber is committed to recognizing and celebrating Indigenous cultures, histories, and knowledges throughout the year in our academic programming, events, professional development, and other initiatives.

“It is something we all need to participate in through ongoing, genuine, caring, and empathetic ways of learning and recognizing the legacy of residential schools,” Seright added. “It is the work of all Canadians to understand the impacts of residential schools, the policies that created the conditions for the devastation of Indigenous cultures and communities, and the ways that Indigenous Peoples are driving a resurgence that will write, and right, the future of our country”.

“The negative impacts on Indigenous cultures have been experienced for generations and it will require a multi-generational commitment from all Canadians to change this.”

An opportunity for reflection

The virtual session was one of several events and learning opportunities hosted by the University of Guelph-Humber and our partners at Humber College and the University of Guelph to mark the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation as well as Orange Shirt Day.

An Orange Shirt Day ceremony hosted by the University of Guelph-Humber’s Early Childhood Studies was opened by Kim Wheatly, Anishinaabe Ojibway Grandmother from Shawanaga First Nation Reserve, and followed by a virtual tour of the Former Mohawk Residential School presented by the Woodland Cultural Centre. Meanwhile, a new training course that will soon be available for all UofGH staff – entitled 4 Seasons of Reconciliation – was unveiled, and the University of Guelph-Humber community also had the opportunity to attend a number of educational sessions hosted by its institutional partners, Humber and the University of Guelph.

“The University of Guelph-Humber and its partner institutions are committed to working towards decolonization and reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples, communities, and lands,” said Dr. Bragues during the virtual session.

“At the University, we value education of course, but also equal access to education and a safe and tolerant environment for instructors, staff, and students who are culturally informed with a social conscience. We value critical reflection about our ways of knowing and methods of instruction.

“We recognize that the Canadian school system has had a painful legacy with Indigenous people and that we have a moral and ethical obligation to demonstrate our commitment to human rights and social justice within the context of higher education in this country. For this reason, we are working closely with our partners on a long-term strategy to investigate and identify opportunities to further Indigenize our curriculum, campus, and services.”

During the session, attendees were not only educated about the pain inflicted by the residential school system, they were also urged to consider what they can do to participate in reconciliation.

“We all have a role to play here,” Dr. Danto said. “Reconciliation should not and cannot fall on the shoulders of those who are Indigenous. The work of reconciliation is the work of each and every Canadian and every person who benefits from this land that has been cared for since time immemorial by those who themselves are of this land – by those who are indigenous to this place.

“It falls on our shoulders to strive to be good allies to Indigenous people, which means standing alongside Indigenous people rather than merely learning about them. It falls on our shoulders to advocate for equal protections and opportunities for Indigenous Peoples. It falls on our shoulders to treat Indigenous knowledge, customs and Peoples with humility and respect. It falls on our shoulders to acknowledge the many deaths, harms, and injustices inflicted on Indigenous people by our institutions, practices, and policies for hundreds of years. And it falls on our shoulders to demand systemic change and to be vigilant in ensuring that history can never repeat itself.

“In this way, we can have a real impact on facilitating healing and moving forward together in a collaborative and respectful way,” Dr. Danto added. “It is the role of all of us to be greater allies. In this way, we can work toward reconciliation together. Therefore, 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 to reconciliation and what actions we will take to right the injustices of the past and the present.”

A link to the virtual session slides can be found here.

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