In recent years, when students are given the freedom to choose their assignment focus, I’ve seen increased interest in exploring Indigenous matters in many of the Professional Communication courses I teach. This interest has come from Indigenous, non-Indigenous, and international students. While Indigenous students may have personal or familial experiences to draw from, non-Indigenous students are often unaware of the root causes of issues they hear about.
The news stories we hear are also often those of small, remote Indigenous communities, and may be difficult for our urbanized students to relate to. While some challenges may seem familiar to non-Indigenous GTA students, such as the housing crisis or food insecurity, other issues may be less familiar, such as distrust of educational, medical, or judicial systems, making this resource an invaluable tool for shared understanding.
The purpose of the Indigenous Toronto Research Resource is to support the efforts of students and instructors from any program who want to explore Indigenous issues in the context of Canada and more specifically, Toronto. Many living in Toronto fail to recognize that the city has a substantial and varied Indigenous population, not accurately reflected by Statistics Canada (McCaskill, FitzMaurice, & Cidro, 2011).
As Indigenous child welfare advocate Cindy Blackstock suggests: “If we can raise a generation of non-Indigenous children–who know about these inequities, who don’t accept these inequities or rationalize these inequities–that creates a better ground for those inequities to end for First Nations’ kids” (in Francis 2018, para. 8).
Although the Indigenous Toronto Research Resource touches on many major issues in Indigenous and settler-colonialist relations, it is in no way comprehensive; volumes have been written, and continue to be written, on the subject. What is offered here is a very brief overview, directly stating and challenging the overt racism inherent in many documents and behaviours of European, political, and religious doctrines inflicted upon the Indigenous population over centuries. (Note that the original language of historical documents has been retained, although some terms are now perceived as offensive.) In addition to this dark history, this resource offers a sense of the present situation, as well as hope for the future, by compiling Indigenous voices and projects.
What this resource does not offer is clear solutions. Its purpose is to offer background and a glimmer of understanding, to support students as they construct or co-construct solutions to long-standing challenges.
With sections on Education, Land and Housing, Nutrition and Food, Health, and Justice, the Indigenous Toronto Research Resource has a web-like structure. The sections can be read in any order and often contain links to other sections within the open educational resource (OER). A reader can dip into a section, without having read the surrounding content. As well as Resources at the end of each section, there is also a separate Resources section compiling all sources used, as well as additional community and TMU-specific resources.
Much of the content of this resource, especially the historical and some contemporary components, is upsetting. For non-Indigenous students, attending Indigenous events around campus, such as the annual Pow Wow, or contacting TMU resources such as Student Wellbeing services may be places to start processing this difficult and troubling information. Additional resources are also available off-campus, as shared in the article Non-Indigenous people, here’s what you can do in wake of KIRS news (indiginews.com).
For Indigenous students or family members of residential school survivors, Hope for Wellness offers both a 24-hour phone line (1-855-242-3310) and online text chat, with services available in Cree, Anishinaabemowin, and Inuktitut. The Indian Residential School Survivors Society also offers a 24-hour phone line (1-800-721-0066). Both of these services were established by Indigenous groups for Indigenous use. Additionally, the Government of Canada has established a National Indian Residential School Crisis Line (1-866-925-4419) providing 24-hour crisis support to residential school survivors and their families.
Remember to pace yourself and take regular breaks when dealing with emotionally charged content; balance the dark content with the hopeful. As Indigenous musician and social activist Buffy Sainte-Marie says in Paddling on Both Sides: Balancing Truth, Tragedy and Triumph, “If all we think about is one side or the other, we just go in circles. So remember to paddle on both sides of the canoe; that’s how you get somewhere” (57-1:05).
Angeconeb, B., & Sainte-Marie, B. (2021, October 1). Paddling on Both Sides [Video]. Vimeo. https://vimeo.com/637467208
Government of Canada. (n.d). Indian Residential Schools Resolution Health Support Program [Webpage]. https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1581971225188/1581971250953
Hope for Wellness Helpline. (n.d.). Hope for Wellness Helpline [Webpage]. https://www.hopeforwellness.ca/
Indian Residential School Survivors Society. (n.d.). Home [Webpage]. https://www.irsss.ca/
Indigenous Services Canada. (2020, February 17). Residential schools [Webpage]. https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1581971225188/1581971250953
IndigiNews. (2021, March 9). Non-Indigenous people — here’s what you can do, right now
McCaskill, D., FitzMaurice, k., & Cidro, J. (2011). Toronto Aboriginal Research Project: Final Report (pp. I–xV, 17–398). https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/8f73-tarp-final-report2011.pdf
Toronto Metropolitan University. (n.d.). Centre for Student Development and Counselling [Webpage]. https://www.torontomu.ca/student-wellbeing/counselling/