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St. Thomas University hosted its first-ever conference towards reconciliation Sept. 27 to 29.

The conference was part of a series of events planned for this year to address how STU can participate in meeting the demands of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

Becoming allies

The conference began last Wednesday afternoon with an address from university president Dawn Russell. St. Thomas University hosted its first-ever conference towards reconciliation Sept. 27 to 29. (William Cumming/AQ) Russell acknowledged the university’s administration has much to do in terms of reconciliation. She said “Indigenization of the academy” means reconciliation through education, dialogue and collective action.

St. Thomas University has 166 Indigenous students, accounting for eight per cent of its overall student population. Four per cent of its faculty identifies as Indigenous. Russell said both of these numbers are well above the national average, emphasizing the importance of reconciliation for the STU community.

“It won’t be easy,” Russell said, but added STU intends to “win the battle,” and use liberal art skills to “beat this challenge.”

The conference’s first keynote speaker, Eddy Robinson, took the stage after an opening prayer by STU’s elder-in-residence Miigam’agan.

Robinson is an educator, writer and Indigenous artist from Toronto. He spoke to the crowd about Indigenous ways of knowing, which are centered around respect, reciprocity, relevance and responsibility, and how non-Indigenous communities can become Indigenous allies.

“We’ve been asking for this stuff for a long time, so there’s a call to action, not just recommendations … And they’re saying, ‘We want to do this together,’ because guess what? We can’t do this on our own,” Robinson said.

“And if we resist each other the whole time, we’re not going get along. It’s going to keep dragging out. So, we need to figure out a way that we can communicate with each other as human beings.”

Robinson’s own advocacy has been driven by his family’s history. His father was a student at Chapleau Indian Residential School and Shingwauk Indian Residential School, taken from his family when he was only 18-months-old. He was tied up in a chicken coop, starved in a high chair and later kept in a hole under the staircase — a spot that still exists at what is now Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, O.N. St. Thomas University has 166 Indigenous students accounting for eight per cent of its overall student population. Four per cent of its faculty identifies as Indigenous.(Photo: William Cumming/AQ) Robinson said his father’s experience is part of the reason he’s been involved in bringing action to the surface the last 25 years, including rallies and speaking to residential school survivors.
“I was there for him,” he said.

Robinson said allyship hasn’t really been defined, which is why people of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities have trouble approaching it.

Robinson said it will take acknowledging personal privilege, asking questions and experiencing authentic Indigenous culture to build bridges.

“We talk about gap in education, [but] it’s a gap in the relationship. We’ve separated ourselves,” he said.

“So, we have to figure out a way to reconnect because we have a lot of the same methodologies, we just have a different lens.”
Though reconciliation has been a decade-long process already just within the federal government, Robinson said the journey isn’t supposed to be simple.Elders often tell their communities to embrace failures along the way and encourage people to make mistakes, he said, because building necessary connections takes work.“When you’re thinking about allyship, thinking about how you can contribute to the conversation with other Indigenous people and, as Indigenous people, how you can contribute to the academic writing in terms of defining what that might mean … It’s […]

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