Indigenous student joins renaming committee after only Indigenous student resigns

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By Heidi Lee

An Indigenous, fifth-year history student has joined the university’s renaming advisory committee, replacing the committee’s previous lone Indigenous student who resigned citing concerns over confidentiality and the renaming process.

According to Ryerson’s Next Chapter webpage, the new member on the committee is Julianna Alton, a history student and external coordinator at the Indigenous Students’ Association.

Alton, who is Ojibwa, Kingfisher Clan and is connected to Batchewana First Nation and Wabauskang First Nation, is replacing Miranda Black, who was previously the only Indigenous student of the committee’s 17 members. Aside from Alton, there are two other Indigenous Peoples on the committee, Christa Hinds and Michael Mihalicz.

Black is a master’s student in environmental applied science and management who is Onkwehonewe, with lineage stemming from the Mohawk of the Bay of Quinte. 

Black previously told The Eyeopener that she was concerned about being the only Indigenous student on the committee and the toll it would take on her.

“The amount of emotional labour that is on Indigenous students at the institution already is something that I live with on a daily basis, let alone being on a committee filled with funders and PR reps who do not understand Indigenous protocols or colonial legacies,” Black told The Eye.

“As the president moves forward…I sincerely ask that he revise this committee”

A rally was held on campus on Oct. 6 by Indigenous students and community members who called for the restructuring of the committee. Wreckonciliation X University, a group of Indigenous students who pushed for the university’s renaming, called on the committee to prioritize Indigenous leadership and represent “the perspectives of First Nations, Inuit, Métis and Newcomers equitably.”

Ryerson University announced its decision to rename the institution on Aug. 26 after accepting the 22 recommendations from the Standing Strong Task Force’s final report. The task force was formed in September 2020 to examine the university’s relationship with its namesake, Egerton Ryerson. 

In an interview with The Eye, president Mohamed Lachemi confirmed Black’s resignation and that another student filled the open position. 

“I encourage you to visit the Next Chapter website, which has the names and short bios of all committee members,” said Lachemi. 

“The advisory committee for the renaming has been assembled to guide the process of developing a shortlist of options for the new name of the institution, a name that reflects our university’s stance, values and aspirations.”

In an op-ed published in The Eye, Black explained her decision to quit the renaming committee. She stated that the confidentiality agreement she was asked to sign conflicted with her values and ability to be accountable to Indigenous communities and residential school survivors.

“I recognize that the decisions I make are in respect to elders and community members and it is important to act as if I am living in the shoes of my ancestors,” Black wrote. “As the president moves forward with plans to rename the university, I sincerely ask that he revise this committee so that Indigenous students and community elders are at the table.”

In the op-ed, Black also alleged that Lachemi and Jennifer Simpson, provost and vice-president, academic, expected to have three potential names for the institution by the end of the committee’s first meeting.

“This shows me that the university is not committed to reconciling the pain and trauma that the residential school system has caused to Indigenous Peoples,” Black wrote. “Instead, it is pushing forward with a process that does more harm than good.” 

According to the university there are “no specific names being discussed at committee meetings at this early stage” and the committee is hoping to have a shortlist of potential names by March 2022.

A spokesperson for the university said the committee is launching a “community engagement period” next week. “The feedback gathered will then be analyzed…the committee will develop a shortlist of names with rationale that will be delivered to the president for consideration and ultimately go to the Board of Governors for a decision.”

This story has been updated to include additional comment and updated information from Ryerson University.

With files from Mariam Nouser

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