Today, there remains no cover or excuse to turn away from the truth about the namesake of our university. Every Indigenous family in this country has been touched by Indian Residential Schools and our namesake’s legacy as an architect of the residential school system is the reason we must act now as faculty members at this institution.
We also act in response to Indigenous faculty and students on campus who have invited us to join this campaign. For the past few weeks, Indigenous faculty and students - and a growing number of supporters - have changed their affiliation from the current name to “X University.” As students wrote in an open letter published by Yellowhead Institute: “For us, there is no debate about reconciling Ryerson’s legacy.” Read the Indigenous faculty open letter to X University community here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1ZnBO6-LqnscK9NqKFV14t1w95ufQhXRTgEUsPhBdEow/edit
Then, at the end of May, the news broke from Tk'emlúps te Secwépemc that 215 children were found buried near the Kamloops Indian Residential School. The former Commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Murray Sinclair, warned that many more such discoveries will be made.
We believe there is no space for complacency in this time of national mourning. Ryerson advocated for a completely different school system for Indigenous children, where boarding, Christian instruction and manual labour was essential, and children would learn only common, brute skills and not the “white man’s trade.”
Much has been made by white historians about Egerton Ryerson’s “complicated” legacy, given his contributions to the establishment of the public school system in Ontario and his friendship with some First Nation Methodists, and the timing of his involvement in the residential school system. But we believe that the matter is not complicated: when one’s policies segregate populations based on race, separate children from loving homes, disconnect them from culture, community, and language, and lay a foundation for genocide through their violent implementation over the course of a century and a half, it is these considerations that must carry the weight of his memory.
For over a century, the residential schools were violent and oppressive institutions that caused the deaths of thousands of Indigenous children and traumatized over 150,000 Indigenous children and their families. The resulting trauma produced a legacy of pain that is carried by descendants and survivors of these institutions. In 2015, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee found the Canadian state to have pursued the physical and cultural genocide of Indigenous peoples.
For years, students, faculty, staff and community groups such as the Anti-Racism Coalition have demanded that the statue of Egerton Ryerson, a key architect of Canada’s Indian Residential School system, be removed from our campus. It is clear to us that the name of this university must also be changed. In June 2020, almost 10,000 people signed a petition calling for the statue to be taken down. Indigenous students, faculty, and staff, must finally be heard, along with the broader community at our university. The time for debate is over.
Symbols of oppression and genocide that are diametrically opposed to our stated values of equity, diversity and inclusion have no place in our community.
We call on the university to permanently remove the Egerton Ryerson statue.
We call on the administration to announce a commitment to rename the university.
See the full list of signatories here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/12txK5MVdhSn_wAHalTKnAls_hvxYe5Y1ehEpl2Pdv98/edit?ts=60b82beb#
Staff at the university have also written an Open Letter in support that can be read and signed here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeu4DnsTMwp_fXwWfFkf0EEVju8Wc9M972WnLXWXUFexM2hYg/viewform