By Annie Arnone
Ryerson student groups were met with good news last week after a majority of their proposed Colonialism 150 demands received approval from Ryerson’s administration.
Ryerson Student’s Union (RSU) vice-president equity Camryn Harlick, alongside the Continuing Education Students’ Association of Ryerson (CESAR), the Indigenous Students’ Association (ISA) and Josh Lamers from the Black Liberation Collective, partook in a roundtable discussion with Ryerson’s administration. But they refused to begin unless the University issued them a formal apology for their behaviour in dealing with the campaign.
Following “some hesitation” Harlick said they received apologies.
Harlick’s anger with administration comes from this past summer. In July, they released a statement on the RSU’s Facebook page outlining their criticisms with the Canada 150 celebrations that the University publically endorsed. Following the statement was a list of 11 demands directed at the University, including an official name change of Ryerson to rid the school of its colonial ties.
Five months later, the following demands were agreed upon by the University: the creation of an Indigenous language course, the education of public servants on the history of Aboriginal Peoples and the history of residential schooling, an annual pow wow and a research program with multi-year funding to advance the understanding of reconciliation.
“It was nice to see the administration recognize that they weren’t doing what they should have been doing,” Harlick said.
Harlick, CESAR vice-president equity and campaigns Phyllis McKenna, as well as Ryerson social work student Sarah Dennis, were all asked to be a part of a committee which would oversee the languages chosen for the course, due to the fact that they’re from diverse Indigenous identities.
“They asked [us] what languages we think would be good, we have a lot of Ojibwe-speaking and Anishinaabe-speaking students at Ryerson, so that’s something to consider,” said Harlick.
McKenna said that the committee is facing the troubles relating to implementing these plans. As of now, the school will only allow someone with a PhD to teach Indigenous language courses, however, none of the qualified elders have one.
“Our elders who speak the languages—the only ones that are competent to speak the language—don’t have PhDs,” she said. “There’s no faculty that has the knowledge of the language to be able to teach in any capacity…these people have spent 50, 60 years speaking the language, and that’s a lot longer than a PhD would take.”
The demands that still remain unapproved are the renaming of the University and the removal of the Egerton Ryerson statue. The University will soon add a plaque to the statue to honour Indigenous communities. However, Harlick says that their advocacy for this campaign is not over. Harlick added that the administration never officially rejected the statue removal and name change.
According to Denise O’Neil Green, Ryerson’s vice-president equity and community inclusion*, administration is in the process of coordinating a subsequent meeting to discuss the remaining demands.
“In this initial meeting, we focused on listening to better understand the realities and impact of racism experienced by our Indigenous students,” O’Neil Green stated in an email.
“We look forward to continuing these meaningful discussions in working towards a more inclusive campus climate,” she said.
Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi was not present at the recent meeting.
The creation of a language course, as well as educating public servants on Aboriginal history comes directly from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) calls to action.
According to Harlick, Ryerson’s follow-up to the TRC report was meant to be issued by the school, “more than two months ago.” However, Lachemi says it will be released in the next couple of weeks.
Lachemi said that Ryerson has been conducting a series of consultations since 2016 with Indigenous communities in order to respond to the TRC’s recommendations with a comprehensive report.
Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi gave a statement via email regarding the meeting with the RSU and student groups. However, it was Denise O’Neil Green who issued the statement via email. The Eyeopener regrets this error.