On Tuesday, June 21, 2022, National Indigenous People’s Day, members of the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, & Design (DFALD) student body learned that Elder Whabagoon’s position as First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean has not been renewed. In doing so, Dean Du has regressed on DFALD’s commitment to the TRC Calls to Action by walking back on the previously answered Call #11.
TRC Call to Action #11: “Each division should actively consider the creation of an Indigenous leadership position within the Office of the Dean. Such positions would have to be meaningful and targeted to real opportunities that are different across divisions. They would also have to be properly supported by the entire Decanal team.”
The news of terminating the position of First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean has come as a surprise to the DFALD community as the student unions had no knowledge of these changes prior to the release of the statement. The actions taken by Dean Du go against the year-long work DFALD’s student groups and unions have put in to increase our faculty’s action with regards to Truth and Reconciliation. During meetings with the Dean, GALDSU and AVSSU consistently advocated for clarity and structure on Elder Whabagoon’s position as it relates to the student body. Despite the lack of transparency, action spurred by this hiring of the First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean was warmly welcomed and praised by students.
Since accepting the Inaugural role of First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean, on January 1, 2021, Elder Whabagoon has been instrumental in leading educational opportunities and public programming at DFALD. She provided guidance on several U of T TRC Calls to Action.
Call #2: “A strategy for the funding and placement of more Indigenous public art across all three campuses should be developed, in close consultation with local Indigenous communities.”
Addressing Call #2, the Daniels Mural Project was developed with Elder Whabagoon’s guidance in collaboration with Indigenous Communities, the Daniels Art Directive (DAD) student group, alongside DFALD staff members.
Call #17: “The University should work to integrate significant Indigenous curriculum content in all of its divisions by 2025. The Provost should work with the divisions to ensure that specific steps are being taken to launch (or in some cases continue) the needed curriculum reform initiatives. Each division should be evaluated regularly, on its progress towards integrating Indigenous content into the curriculum.”
Call #18: “The Provost should launch an initiative to develop and offer Indigenous learning opportunities for faculty, instructors, staff, and teaching assistants. In addition, the University should create and fund a pool of Indigenous curriculum developers, who would ideally be of Indigenous heritage. The curricula they work to develop, in close collaboration with divisions, should be based on Indigenous knowledge and protocols.”
Responding to Calls #17 and #18, she also helped to organize educational programming for faculty, staff and students for the 2021 Orange Shirt Day, Treaties Recognition Week and Doors Open TO. Elder Whabagoon’s impact and commitment to DFALD precedes the present and interim Dean. She regularly shared her knowledge and insight with Program Directors, instructors and students on specific course development and student work.
Call #26: “The University should invest more in publicising existing college pathway programs, and in actively recruiting into those programs and into the existing, targeted Indigenous access and bridging programs.”
In 2018, with support from the Access Program University Fund, she co-founded an Indigenous youth program, Nikibii Dawadinna Giigwag, to answer Call #26.
Call #28: The Provost should commission a detailed study of existing funding mechanisms across the University that could be better deployed to support Indigenous students. The Vice-President, Advancement should design a targeted fundraising initiative to build support for both scholarships and needs-based bursaries for Indigenous students in undergraduate, graduate, and professional programs.
Importantly, she guided the Faculty in establishing its first scholarship for Indigenous students entering the undergraduate program at DFALD for 2022-2023, answering Call #28.
At this year’s graduation, for the first time ever, an eagle feather led the ceremony and an Indigenous architect received an honorary doctorate degree. Elder Whabagoon was not present at this, or any other graduation ceremony to witness these significant changes. Students were left deeply confused and alarmed, raising questions around why the First Peoples Advisor was not present for these occasions after all the dedicated work put in over the year.
On Friday, July 8, 2022,Dean Du’s public announcement, emailed to the DFALD community, gave the news of walking back on TRC Call #11, framed as an expansion of the role of First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean. While the proposed Indigenous Advisory Board will respond to Call #12, it does not mean Call #11 can be nullified and left unanswered by DFALD. All 34 TRC Calls to Action must be answered together, not cherry-picked based on what is easiest or most convenient to the settler community.
TRC Call to Action #12: “The President and the Provost should investigate and consider the creation of an Indigenous Advisory Council made up primarily of members of Indigenous communities external to the University. Such Councils exist at other universities, especially in Western Canada.”
It is unacceptable that Dean Du has, on behalf of DFALD, walked back on our collective commitment and responsibility to Call #11. Dean Du missed the unique opportunity to co-create a meaningful advisory structure and accountability process with her First Peoples Leadership Advisor. This Advisory position is a relational one and should not be treated as extractive, transactional, and disposable. Furthermore, the requirements for holding a position on the Advisory Board include colonial standards with long histories of exclusion and gatekeeping, such as academic experience and conceptualizing the work as a ‘service’ to the settler community. The Dean’s action undermines the good work done to date, erodes the trust we have built with the Indigenous community, and discredits the faculty's reputation.
This walking back on a TRC Call to Action is a huge setback to Truth and Reconciliation. It reverses our efforts as students to decolonize the current curriculum and pedagogy at DFALD, and the future architecture practice as a whole. With only 18 registered architects and 2 registered landscape architects in Ontario identifying as Indigenous, the opportunity for DFALD to be a leader in decolonizing design is lost. As members of the DFALD community, we must think critically about what this walking back on TRC Call #11 says to Indigenous communities about our commitment to reconciliation. This is not how you build relationships, this is not how you build trust.
We, as representatives of the student body, are calling upon the Dean and Faculty with the following actions:
- Dean Du, and all future persons to hold the position of Dean, as well as all those working within the Dean’s office, must complete cultural training specifically related to Indigenous Turtle Island communities.
- This training cannot be a one-time event, as decolonizing and reconciliation are ongoing practices that require deep understanding and time for implementation.
- These training sessions must be done in an accountable way, with report backs to the faculty and students and paired with actionable changes to be implemented at DFALD.
- Cultural training sessions must be done in collaboration with Indigenous communities to ensure appropriate topics are covered and to foster better relationship building with Indigneous leaders.
- As per the University of Toronto’s TRC 34 Calls to Action, the following are to be implemented immediately, with adaptations as required to address the Daniels Faculty:
- Call #8: “The Vice-President, Human Resources and Equity’s Office should immediately implement a process to conduct exit interviews with any Indigenous faculty and staff who leave University employment”
- Call #15: “The Provost’s Office, working with the divisions, should seek to expand the current financial support for Elder services, which should be made available to broader segments of the University community”
We are deeply disappointed and angry by the lack of transparency, systemic racism and token gestures that we called the Faculty out on two years ago in our Daniels Do Better letter. If DFALD is to move forward with the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action in an honest and sincere way, it must be rooted in a deep understanding of the history and contemporary realities of Indigenous peoples. The Dean, in her leadership position on behalf of the Faculty, must demonstrate a commitment to authentic, meaningful and non-extractive relationship building with Indigenous peoples, with humility, integrity, ethics, accountability, transparency, and institutional support.
Additionally, we the student body, are raising the following questions to the Faculty in response to the First Peoples Advisory Group as proposed by Dean Du:
- What was the consultation process for not renewing the position of First Peoples Advisor to the Dean? How was this decision delivered to community members, including Indigenous students and faculty? Student unions were not notified or consulted with for this impactful decision, increasing concerns around transparency and accountability. It still remains unclear how replacing the position of First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean in favour of an Advisory group, will facilitate an expansion of the role more than if both Call #11 and #12 were to be answered.
- Was the First Peoples Leadership Advisor to the Dean consulted for the expansion of the role into a First Peoples Leadership Advisory Group? The Dean’s announcement stated that there was consultation with the Office of Indigenous Initiatives, First Nations House and Indigenous students, but there was no mention of collaboration with the existing advisory role.
About First Peoples Advisory Group:
- How does this new structure fit within the TRC Calls to Action #11 and #12? As previously stated, the creation of the First Peoples Advisory Group is not meant to be a replacement for the First Peoples Advisor to the Dean.
- Who is on the selection committee and how are they chosen? Will the selection committee be compensated? How are Indigenous communities being reached? How are applications being evaluated? DFALD cannot perpetuate the use of colonial tools in the process of decolonization. We have been asking for transparency in the hiring process in our Daniels Do Better letter since 2020, and it is crucial that we keep the faculty accountable.
- Why are there three members? How will they be compensated? The proposed scope of the Advisory Group is not work that can be completed with part-time contracts. Elders holding these positions are giving important time and knowledge to the Faculty rather than their own communities and compensation should reflect the high value of their work.
- What accessibility and supportive resources are in place for Indigenous members who may not be comfortable with forms? What kinds of equity-based actions will be implemented to ensure all barriers to applicants are removed?
- What capacity will this group have with regards to decision-making within DFALD? How will decisions made be clearly communicated to students, faculty and staff?
- What kind of assistance will be offered to the Advisory Group? How will instances of racism or oppression be resolved? Solutions need to be co-created with members of the First Peoples Advisory Group.
- How will this advisory panel ensure we continue the Indigenous programming that began with the inaugural Leadership Advisor? Given the sudden change that occurred with the First Peoples Advisor to the Dean position, DFALD needs transparency and accountability that TRC Calls are longstanding actions with security.
About the Faculty and Students:
- How does the new Assistant Dean of Equity Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) fit into this structure? Equity, Diversity and Inclusion work must be done alongside Truth and Reconciliation, but it is also crucial to acknowledge the two are separate action items that must be addressed.
- How does this new structure support the students? What will the scope of the Advisory Group’s work be as it relates to students and curriculum? The position of First Peoples Advisor to the Dean was ill- defined in scope and lacked definition for how the position related to the student body.