By Madi Wong
Joanne Dallaire, campus elder at Ryerson, has been appointed to fulfil the role of senior advisor of Indigenous relations and reconciliation.
Dallaire has been at Ryerson since 2005, training and providing traditional teaching and ceremonies, as well as working as a traditional counsellor at Ryerson’s Aboriginal Student Services. In 2010 she began working with the Aboriginal Education Council.
“I really felt that it was important for the role of [the] elder to be seen as a senior management position, which is what it’s viewed as in our Indigenous communities,” said Dallaire.
An elder is a “man or a woman whose wisdom about spirituality, culture and life is recognized.” Only members from the Indigenous community can decide who an elder is and the community and individuals will usually seek the advice and assistance of elders in “various areas of traditional as well as contemporary issues.”
“It’s about making sure that this…is a position where the elder knows what’s going on in the university and can apply knowledge, offer advice for any elder that comes after me,” Dallaire said.
According to Dallaire, the difference in her new role versus her longtime role—as an elder—is being on the Board of Governors (BoG) and the Senate.
She says this new role allows her to “have privy to things that really [matter] for the university,” as well as having input on them.
Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi said having Dallaire as part of the senate and BoG will allow her to be a part of the big discussions which revolve around the visions of the university.
Lachemi said Ryerson “has always valued the position of [the] elder,” but they wanted to give Dallaire a role that can really benefit from her own expertise and experience.
“The new role will put her in a position to affect positive change to our students, faculty and staff,” he said.
Settling into her new role, Dallaire said some of her tasks moving forward will be ensuring that Indigenous knowledge and perspective is weaved into curriculum in different faculties. In addition, she has asked Ryerson to see if they can be a part of the solution for the water crisis in Ontario.
She said she also wants to ensure more signage—such as posters that represent the Indigenous community—and increase visibility for Indigenous people.
“You want to see people from your own culture, it makes you feel at home, it makes you feel comfortable. And so with us being such a small number of population, we have to make sure that we’re visible,” she said.
Eight new full-time tenured Indigenous faculty members were hired by Ryerson for the 2019-20 school year. Dallaire said she plans to meet with them to discuss their hopes for her new role.
Among her goals, Dallaire is hoping to host big gatherings at Ryerson, such as forums, in order to bring elders together.
In addition, Dallaire is remaining on the Truth and Reconciliation Consultation committee at Ryerson, and she will continue to make sure reconciliation goals are followed through.
“I want the rest of Indigenous faculty, staff and students to feel they have a voice [and] to feel that they can bring their concerns to me…And that they’re going to be heard,” she said.
“We talk a lot about our problematic, troubled history. And yes that’s true. But we have so many incredible people doing amazing work.”