By Heidi Lee and Mariyah Salhia
The structure of Ryerson University’s renaming advisory committee needs reformation, Indigenous students and community members said at a campus rally on Wednesday night.
Miranda Black, the only Indigenous student on the committee, said the renaming advisory committee should be filled with “10 elders and Indigenous and Black students and alumni.”
“I am not the person who organized this rally, but I really do want other Indigenous and Black people to have a voice on how important this renaming process really is,” she said.
“It is not so much about the name itself. It is about the process,” said Black, a master’s student in environmental applied science and management who is Onkwehonewe with lineage stemming from the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte.
Over 35 people gathered to attend the rally for equitable First Nations, Inuit and Métis representation on the committee.
The rally turned into a sharing circle where participants came to share their opinions on the committee and Ryerson’s reconciliation efforts.
A slogan painted on a large banner behind speakers read “reconciliation is not a PR stunt,”—a message to the school, according to Wreckonciliation X University, a collective of Indigenous students who organized the event.
“It is not so much about the name itself. It is about the process”
However, Black raised concerns over the lack of Indigenous representatives on the committee. There are only two Indigenous members on the advisory committee composed of 17 members, The Eyeopener previously reported.
The other Indigenous member of the committee is Michael Mihalicz, an assistant professor and Indigenous advisor at the Ted Rogers School of Management.
Black said during her first meeting with the committee on Monday, she was in a room of donors: “PR people and HR people.”
“Someone was trying to tell me to remember to be kind,” said Black. “That’s why, as Indigenous people, we have not been heard. It is time to be firm; there’s no time to be kind anymore.”
Black said the effects of being the only Indigenous student on the committee have already taken a physical toll on her.
“It’s an intergenerational trauma to our communities,” said Black. “This amount of emotional labour that I’ve been doing on the committee has actually caused me to have physical and mental breakdowns.”
“I told [the advisory committee] on Monday morning at our first meeting that I no longer slept, because of the responsibility that I have to Indigenous and Black students.”
Brea Scott, an Indigenous undergraduate student and organizer with Wreckonciliation X University, called the committee’s Indigenous representation “an absolute disgrace and embarrassment.” Scott grew up in the Williams Treaties Territory in Uxbridge, Ont. and moved to Dish With One Spoon Territory five years ago.
“I love this university, I love this institution,” said Scott. “I wish that we could be proud to talk about this institution and it wasn’t with this stain and regret that we look to our leaders on this campus.”
Scott also addressed criticism from those who think changing the institution’s name will “erase history.”
“I would like to tell these people that right now we have an opportunity to not only collectively create history as it goes on around us, but to collectively embrace truth.”
“This is part of a larger conversation,” said Sam Howden, a master’s student and organizer with Wreckonciliation who is Red River Métis from Treaty 1 territory in Winnipeg. “This is what happens when truth and reconciliation start to be brought up in the conversation of institutions like this.”
During a speech, Howden also criticized the university for its “performative activism.”
“Right now we have an opportunity to not only collectively create history as it goes on around us, but to collectively embrace truth”
Ewan Cassidy, an undergraduate student of Algonquin descent, said that constantly being expected to educate the community about Indigenous issues is disappointing, especially when they feel unsupported.
“Time and time again, we’re here doing what?” he said. “Dealing with having to educate our own professors on what not to say and why some of the stuff they say is just straight-up fucking racist.”
Cassandra Myers, a Ryerson alum and a former Board of Governors student representative, said she witnessed the “bullshit” and large amounts of funding that Ryerson amassed for its Social Ventures Zone, which Myers said “profits and capitalizes on a narrative of social justice.”
Myers said when she previously worked at the Ryerson Student Centre, she saw Indigenous students get harassed on a daily basis because of their support and petitioning to remove the statue of Egerton Ryerson from campus.
“Extra support was not available to them through the university for those experiences,” Myers said.
Myers questioned the lack of engagement from student representatives who are currently on Ryerson’s Board of Governors and the Ryerson Students’ Union, who “are supposed to work to push for change” and represent “students’ voices.”
With files from Mariam Nouser and Jes Mason