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Kamloops Discovery lights up the heads of the colonial statue at University X in Toronto

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TORONTO, Canada When indigenous students and professors last week heard that the head of a statue had come denouncing their name schools, and at the same time the genocide of indigenous people in Canada’s residential school system they felt relieved.

It was a big surprise, but a very pleasant surprise, said Eva Jewell, an Anishinaabe professor at Ryerson University. The university is named after Egerton Ryerson, a leading architect of Canada’s school housing system, who forced more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Mtis youth into Indian boarding schools in an effort to assimilate them. those in the culture of the inhabitants.

In residential schools, children were neglected and abused, often to the point of death. When I got the job at university, I got the job knowing it was a problematic name, Jewell said. I was happy to be able to see justice in my time here.

egerton2Statue of Egerton Ryerson at Ryerson University in Toronto. (Photo / Sam Howden)

On Sunday, after a multi-day sit-in protest where residential school survivors spoke of their experiences of trauma and abuse experienced at the hands of the Canadian government and Catholic churches running residential schools, the Egerton Ryersons statue was beheaded from what the students called a group of angry community members. The body of the statue was later taken by the university staff.

I was there when it happened, said Sam Howden (Red River Nation), a Ryerson University graduate student and lead organizer behind name change campaign. Last month, Howden teamed up with other Indigenous students to send a letter to the university asking them to remove Ryerson from his name. Until the request is met, read on paper, students and staff will be referred to the institution as University X.

Howden said he fell in less than a minute with a pickup truck and a very strong rope. It just made me feel so funny because I had spent years and years talking about it, and getting organized towards the descent of this statue and then it was empty when it crashed, within less than a minute.

University President Mohamed Lachemi said the statue will not be replaced or restored, in a declaration Sunday. The office of the president did not respond to requests for comment Native News Online. The Association of Indigenous Students of universities also declined to comment.

The move to change the names of Ryerson Universities as well as remove his statue placed on a podium in a central part of campus had long been pushed by indigenous students and staff, but was greeted with new force in the light of the mass grave. unmarked found at the site of a former residential school in British Columbia on May 27th.

Sure, indigenous people and communities in the First Nations have always known that there were mass graves outside the school, but revealing this to the Canadian public was what really galvanized the movement, Jewell said.

Late last month, the bodies of 215 indigenous children were discovered in an unmarked grave at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School in British Columbia. The discovery seemed like a nationwide call to action between indigenous communities that the church and the federal government work to find out where children are buried in other residential schools across the country.

sam howdenStudent organizer Sam Howden. (Photo / Sam Howden)

The University, in response to requests over the last decade, decided a Strong Standing (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force with the intent of collecting research on school names and ultimately submitting a recommendation to the president for action regarding the statue and other elements of Egerton Ryersons history from March 16 to May 16, 2021.

But Jewell and Howden say the task force itself is a colonial system rooted in the idea of ​​neutrality.

When you are talking about neutrality in situations of extreme injustice, especially in discussing someone who is critical of the beginnings of our genocide, being neutral is not always enough, Jewell said. It is actually taking this stance to allow space for debates about our humanity.

Going forward, Howden stressed the importance of Indigenous programming, encouraging Indigenous participation and leadership, and the responsibility for Egerton Ryersons’s role in history that promoted the division of the school beyond First Nation groups.

I think as a first year program, regardless of the departments that people are, they need to be educated in ways of social justice and understanding about the indigenous (and) black communities here who have also been destabilized by the actions of Egerton Ryerson, because they also promoted separate schools for Black people throughout southwestern Ontario, and also appeared in Africville in Nova Scotia, Howden said. I think they have so much work to do.

The head of the statue of Egerton Ryerson is currently lit challengingly in 1492 Land Back Lane, a disputed territory between the Six Great River Nations and the Canadian government in Caledonia, Ont. Uncleshte unclear how the head got there.

This statue is an object and a symbol of Canada’s heritage and ongoing colonialism, Jewell said. I think it is an act of catharsis for our communities to regain our territories, to regain our dignity as indigenous peoples in what is currently Canada.

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About the Author

Author: Jenna Kunze

Staff writer

Jenna Kunze is a reporter for Native News Online and Tribal Business News. Kunze lines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Smithsonian Magazine and Anchorage Daily News. In 2020, she was one of 16 American journalists selected by the Pulitzer Center to report on the effects of climate change in the Alaskan Arctic region. Prior to that, she served as a lead reporter for the Chilkat Valley News in Haines, Alaska. Kunze is based in New York.




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