The University of Toronto has continuously worked toward supporting the growth and increasing the representation of the Indigenous community. Recently, the U of T community has established a virtual tour of Indigenous history spanning throughout its Scarborough, downtown Toronto, and Mississauga campuses.
The Office of Indigenous Initiatives, established by the U of T’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Steering Committee, supports and guides the U of T community to reconciliation with Canada’s Indigenous community.
“The Council of Aboriginal Initiatives supports initiatives, strategies, and programming that advance access, retention, and degree completion for the Indigenous community at the University of Toronto,” read the council’s website. “The Council’s mandate includes supporting the University’s commitment to excellence and equity by fostering collaboration across the University and with Indigenous communities, government bodies, and other associates.”
The Indigenous of the U of T website conducts environmental scans, produces a report to establish the impact and progress of Indigenous initiatives on campus, and manages the activities of the Council of Indigenous Initiatives. One of the reports on its website, the Truth and Reconciliation Report (TRC), focuses on the university’s ways to mandate policies that support the Indigenous community.
“Some actions are role-based, others are context-driven or address curriculum issues or research,” stated the report’s overview. “They are intended to provide strong direction and to facilitate positive change.”
In addition to its initiatives, U of T is currently establishing virtual tours throughout its three campuses in celebration of Indigenous history. These tours will be led by students and faculty of varying Indigenous descent. Drew Rickard, a third-year Faculty of Arts & Science student and member of Woodsworth College, shared with U of T News his plans to work as a tour guide in the Indigenous history tours at U of T.
“My interest in this is really in my identity and reconnecting with that,” stated Rickard. “I’m proud of who I am. This is a missing puzzle piece for something that I was already putting together—and so far, it’s been a great learning experience.”
The tours were going to be offered in-person; however, with the Covid-19 pandemic, U of T was forced to shift to an online format of touring where it will offer a 360-degree video experience and other online resources.
Jill Carter, (Anishinaabe/Ashkenazi) an assistant professor with the Faculty of Arts & Science Centre for Drama, Theatre, & Performance Studies, told U of T News that the “stories, the lessons they draw from past teachings, the ways in which they have learned to read the land and their experiences as young Indigenous Peoples are crucial additions to First Story.”
Carter also stated that the guides’ training for these tours is working alongside Indigenous elders to reclaim the region’s culture and history and learn from their oratory and storytelling skills.
“These skills and this experience will ultimately serve them well when pursuing future academic and professional goals,” continued Carter. “Soon, they will meet faculty and fellow students across departments and disciplines as they conduct tours.”
The Equity Offices and Office of Indigenous Initiatives will remain open and available to provide support to members of the Indigenous community. As of March 17, 2020, services at the office began to be provided remotely via phone or video, and drop-in appointments are not available at this time.
U of T is working towards creating the due space for Indigenous members of the U of T community to teach their history and encourage the next generation to continue its impact in the years to come.