Homepage: Toronto Met University magazine

The decision to rename the university fosters hope for the future

Two students talk renaming, reconciliation and education

By Deborah Smyth

Jeremie Caribou stands in front of a body of water.
Jeremie Caribou leads narrative walking tours on campus to build understanding about Indigenous culture. Photograph by Alex Jacobs-Blum

Relieved is how Jeremie Caribou describes his reaction to the August 2021 Standing Strong Task Force recommendations.

“I was leaving it up to the community to honour the democratic process and the community didn’t let me down,” said Caribou, who is of Cree and Mohawk descent. Despite being adopted, raised and influenced by his Cree grandparents, who were residential school survivors, he didn’t learn about residential schools until he was an adult.

“Using [Egerton] Ryerson’s name and honouring him with a statue is just putting genocide and anti-Indigenous racism on a pedestal,” said Caribou, who is thankful that the decision was made to change the name of the university. “Even today, First Nations people often feel like strangers within our own landscapes, tolerated as guests. I’ve met people in the GTA who have never met an Indigenous person before.”

Caribou has frequently faced discrimination and racism in daily life, from being denied education and emergency medical health services to being followed in stores because of his race. He’s even experienced discrimination when volunteering for organizations involved in social justice, where there’s been a lack of understanding of Indigenous culture.

"It’s important to raise awareness of these contributions to the common good of society and weave them into the curriculum."

Jeremie Caribou.

Jeremie Caribou, Mature student, Public Administration and Governance program in partnership with First Nations Technical Institute (2022) Library Indigenous Initiatives Liaison Lead. Photography by Alex Jacobs-Blum

To help change this, Caribou has been leading Indigenous-narrative walking tours of the university campus through his social venture Outdoor ReconciliACTION since 2018. The tours are intended to facilitate greater understanding about Indigenous culture and “the often untold history of the unique First Nations and Crown relationship,” he said. “Participants always say they’ve never learned so much about Indigenous culture and treaties and that they wish they knew more.”

Caribou is encouraged that the task force expressed “respectful collaboration” and “responsibility to educate” among the recommendations, along with a commitment to make Indigenous curriculum content mandatory at the university. 

“Nation-to-nation relationships have been formulated through hundreds of years,” he said. “So I’m happy the task force expressed that we should revitalize that practice and involve various stakeholders. Because there’s more than one side to a story.” 

Education is a top priority for Caribou, who decided to return to school after working 20 years in the trades. In those roles, he experienced discrimination and racism regularly. “I want to make change and have a social impact,” he explained. 

He feels that updating the university curriculum to integrate Indigenous knowledges and include the innovations of Indigenous Peoples will be a big step forward for the institution.

“It’s important to raise awareness of these contributions to the common good of society—such as treaty making, agricultural practices, and others—and weave them into the actual curriculum.” 

Brea Scott.

Brea Scott, Bachelor of Arts and Contemporary Studies: Anthropology (2022) Certificate in Indigenous Knowledges and Experiences at The Chang School of Continuing Education (2022). Photograph by Alex Jacobs-Blum

“I’m looking to decolonize my mind and help publicly educate others,” says Brea Scott of their motivation in pursuing a certificate in Indigenous Knowledges and Experiences at The Chang School, while simultaneously completing an undergraduate degree. 

The more Scott learned about Indigenous rights issues, the more they wanted to become involved in the WRECKonciliation movement, an Indigenous and student-led organization advocating to change the name of the university. 

Scott first got involved helping to host a sit-in and shoe memorial at the Egerton Ryerson statue last spring. The memorial was created with hundreds of pairs of children’s shoes that were left in grief and recognition of the 215 children whose unmarked graves were located at Kamloops Residential School. Scott and other students, university staff and faculty volunteers took the opportunity to engage with and educate the public.“There were a number of people who were asking a lot of questions about residential schools and how children had died at them,” Scott recalled. “It was very shocking to me that they didn’t even know about that.”

The Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force released its report in August and the university committed to release an action plan by January 31, 2022, for fulfilling the recommendations. Scott was excited to see that renaming the university was among them.

“We give a lot of power to the people who decide to name things or who decide who doesn’t get named. For example, while at residential schools, children were renamed with a Christian or English name. This act attempted to place Indigenous Peoples in a subjugated role. It took away power to identify with one’s culture, one’s community, one’s family. So I think the renaming process is really important,” said Scott.

"It is our responsibility to honour our Treaties and educate ourselves so that Indigenous People don’t have to bear the brunt of that."

“I think the recommendations are great, but at the end of the day, they really are just recommendations,” said Scott. “We need to see a real change and better communication and education, not only within the university community, but the broader community as well.” 

Scott sees an important role that non-Indigenous supporters like her can play in building nation-to-nation relationships. “Settlers are important in this discussion as well, and it is our responsibility to honour our Treaties and educate ourselves so that Indigenous Peoples don’t have to bear the brunt of that.”

deborah smyth
As a freelance writer, Deborah Smyth’s bylines have appeared in The Globe and Mail, Chatelaine, Cottage Life and Seventeen Magazine.

Love the digital mag?

Sign up now. Don’t miss an issue of Toronto Met University Magazine.