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Decanal Working Group on Indigenous Teaching and Learning, 2018

Executive Summary

As the largest Faculty in one of Canada’s leading universities, Arts & Science has a central role to play in answering the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). In order to effectively address the cultural genocide that took place in residential schools and ongoing structures of colonialism, Arts & Science must become a place where Indigenous languages, forms of cultural expression, systems of knowledge, theories and research methodologies are transmitted and are critically and rigorously studied at the most advanced levels.

Arts & Science also has an obligation to confront and address the ongoing structures of colonialism that shape teaching and learning at a time when the Indian Act remains in force. This Canadian federal law has been updated and revised significantly since its first passage in 1876 to remove some of its most odious features, which included forcing attendance at residential schools (from 1884)3, banning Indigenous religious ceremonies (1884-1951), preventing Indigenous peoples from hiring lawyers to address land claims (1927-1947) and banning them from voting in elections unless they removed from their communities (until 1960). Nevertheless, the Indian Act remains in force, and regulates Indigenous peoples’ lives and relationships with the state in ways that are fundamentally paternalistic, including, for example, denial of self-governance, jurisdiction over identity, and economic control. The Indian Act remains a repudiation of treaty relationships.

The residential school system was not created in a vacuum. Rather, those responsible for the development, maintenance, and expansion of the system that destroyed many Indigenous children’s lives and took them from their families, endangering the viability of their diverse languages, systems of knowledge and forms of cultural expression, were in many cases University-educated religious and political leaders. And given the University of Toronto’s age and significance, it is fair to say that a majority of those leaders would have had their undergraduate education within areas of study housed in what is now Arts & Science.

Today, ongoing forms of oppression directed at Indigenous peoples, including the lived experience of racism, both systematic and direct, are facilitated by the lack of knowledge most Canadians have about 1) the laws, systems of thought, and political organization of Indigenous peoples and 2) about understanding their own settler responsibilities within treaty relationships. This ignorance can be confronted through education and research, through taking a hard look at our university’s past and present, and by taking action as this report recommends. These objectives are consistent with the Purpose of the University:

“The University of Toronto is dedicated to fostering an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principles of equal opportunity, equity and justice.

Within the unique university context, the most crucial of all human rights are the rights of freedom of speech, academic freedom, and freedom of research. And we affirm that these rights are meaningless unless they entail the right to raise deeply disturbing questions and provocative challenges to the cherished beliefs of society at large and of the university itself.

It is this human right to radical, critical teaching and research with which the University has a duty above all to be concerned; for there is no one else, no other institution and no other office, in our modern liberal democracy, which is the custodian of this most precious and vulnerable right of the liberated human spirit.”

Representing an important step forward, this Working Group on Indigenous Teaching & Learning (ITL) was established by the Dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science, David Cameron in the summer of 2016. Through in-depth discussions and facilitated activities over the 2016-2017 year, the Working Group developed 18 Calls to Action. These Calls to Action are all consistent with the Mission and Purpose of the University. They are outlined in this document under the seven key themes:

  • An Indigenous College for U of T/Arts & Science
  • Supporting the Centre for Indigenous Studies
  • Divisional Leadership
  • Enhancing Support and Services for Indigenous Students
  • Curricular Changes
  • Training for Faculty and Staff
  • Responding to this Report

Read the Full Report

Statement of Acknowledgement of Traditional Land

We wish to acknowledge this land on which the University of Toronto operates. For thousands of years it has been the traditional land of the Huron-Wendat, the Seneca, and most recently, the Mississaugas of the Credit River. Today, this meeting place is still the home to many Indigenous people from across Turtle Island and we are grateful to have the opportunity to work on this land.1 Version approved by the Ceremonials Committee of the Governing Council.