About the author: Theresa Rajack-Talley is Dalhousie’s Vice-Provost of Equity and Inclusion
Each year on September 30, Canada marks the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation — a statutory holiday designated by the federal government to commemorate the horrific legacy of residential schools in Canada. Recognition of the day is one of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 94 Calls to Action that Dalhousie honors, and the university will be closed this Friday for a period of remembrance and reflection.
The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation offers a chance to remember and honor the experiences of children who never returned home and survivors of residential schools, as well as their families and communities. Dalhousie joins with others in acknowledging the tragic and painful history and the ongoing impacts of residential schools. We see this as an important component of the reconciliation process.
Dalhousie also plans to lower all its flags to half-mast on the commemorative day and raise the orange ‘Every Child Matters’ flag. The flag will remain up on all Dal’s campuses through October as we honour Mi’kmaq History Month, which kicks off Saturday (Oct.1) on Treaty Day. (The Mi’kmaq Grand Council flag is permanently flown on all Dalhousie campuses.) The clocktower of the Henry Hicks Building in Halifax and Cumming Hall in Truro will also be lit up in orange light on the evenings of September 29 and 30.
Orange Shirt Day, also happening Friday, adds another symbolic layer of reflection and remembrance. By dressing in orange, people acknowledge and raise awareness of the individual, family and community inter-generational impacts of residential schools and promote the concept of “Every Child Matters.” The orange shirt symbolizes the stripping away of culture, freedom and self-esteem experienced by Indigenous children over generations.
Related reading: Two of Dal’s Indigenous leaders share personal reflections on truth and reconciliation
Dal’s ongoing response to TRC Calls to Action
Where progress has been made in addressing the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s 2015 report, credit must be given to the news of the children whose lives were taken and the survivors who have lived to tell these truths to the world.
At institutions like Dalhousie, we listen, learn, and move forward. Here are just a few observations on Dalhousie’s efforts to address the TRC’s Calls to Action and the subsequent discoveries of mass graves at former residential school sites across Turtle Island, Canada:
Our Dal community
- Although small and slow there have been increases at Dal in Indigenous and Mi’kmaq students, staff, and faculty between the date the TRC report was published in 2015 and 2021. Our 2021 estimates show that 4% of our student population are Indigenous of which 2% are Mi’kmaq , 4% of our staff are Indigenous with 1% Mi’kmaq , and 2% of all faculty members are Indigenous with 1% Mi’kmaq.
Academic programming and supports
- Dal's long-standing Indigenous Black and Mi'kmaq Initiative and Transition Year Program continue to be successful as we expand other areas of our academic programming.
- Dalhousie's Indigenous Studies minor is currently being expanded into a major.
- Dal's Faculties of Medicine and Agriculture have created special undergraduate admissions programs dedicated to creating pathways for more Indigenous students to enter the university.
- Dalhousie now has a dedicated Indigenous Services Librarian.
- The Centre for Learning and Teaching employs an Indigenous educational developer centred on Indigenous knowledges and ways of knowing.
- Dal has an academic director of Indigenous Health and an Indigenous Health Advisory Committee in the Faculty of Medicine.
- Our Indigenous Student Center and Elders-in-Residence program have been established for some time now and play extremely important support roles for our students.
- The School of Nursing has an Indigenous student advisor.
- Dalhousie understands that it must be respectful and ethical in its research and innovation projects and offer educational workshops for non-Indigenous researchers around this theme and recently employed an Indigenous research facilitator. Dal also recognizes the important roles of our current Indigenous Canada Research Chairs.
- Ko’jua Okuom, located in the Downie Wenjack Legacy Space on the first floor of the Killam Memorial Library, was developed to be a welcoming gathering place for Indigenous students, staff, and faculty to host and attend Indigenous ceremonies and events.
These are just a few initiatives and examples of progress made, but it is not enough. Injustices and inequities that have been created over the past 500 years of contact with the new immigrants, the French and British, are challenging, nuanced and take time — but Dal remains committed. Dalhousie University is located in Mi’kma’ki, the ancestral and unceded territory of the L’nu’k, and led by Cathy Martin, our director for Indigenous community engagement, we are building stronger partnerships with our communities on campus and off. This includes Dal's Indigenous Advisory Council as well as those Indigenous communities in close proximity to our Truro campus.
On this National Day for Truth and Reconciliation and every day, we must remind ourselves that we are all Treaty People, understand and respect the treaties, the people, their way of life, and the Elders.
Information on community events and activities is available via Human Rights and Equity Services (scroll down to Community Events).
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