Upper Canada College’s “Truth and Reconciliation Week” was a multi-faceted event that showed the school’s commitment to supporting the country’s Indigenous communities.
Things kicked off on April 23 with the principal’s assembly in Laidlaw Hall with Gerald McMaster, OCAD professor of Indigenous visual culture and critical curatorial studies, delivering a keynote address. Principal Sam McKinney spoke about the history of residential schools in Canada.
Later in the week, the Lind Visiting Artist Program collaborated with UCC’s visual arts department and Amnesty International Club on a site-specific installation in the Upper School student centre by Vancouver artist Cathy Busby titled “WE CALL: Upper Canada College.” It featured large, colourful fabric panels with abridged excerpts from calls to action from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Selecting the calls came about from a lengthy process that involved members of the Indigenous community, former and current students, faculty and staff members. Students met with Maria Montejo of Dodem Kanonhsa Indigenous Education and Cultural Facility. They consulted with Indigenous elder Cat Criger and McMaster, and undertook research with UCC archivist Jill Spellman.
The final calls to action were determined during a Jan. 29 meeting of the newly formed UCC Reconciliation Council that was attended by current students, faculty and school senior leadership members, Indigenous rights lawyer Derek Ground ’81 and Mohawk Nation member Barry Hill ’62. The process was led by Criger, the University of Toronto Mississauga’s Aboriginal elder in residence.
The UCC Reconciliation Council will ensure an ongoing dialogue and multi-year action plan to uphold the College’s ongoing commitment towards pluralism, truth and reconciliation.
Workshops were held on the morning of April 26. Old Boys Hill, Ground and Alain Bartleman ’07, along with Prep teacher Peter Gray, Journalists for Human Rights and others engaged students on subjects related to Indigenous people.
Hill, who graduated as head of Seaton’s House in 1962, spoke about his experiences as an Indigenous student at UCC and answered questions during the student assembly in Laidlaw Hall on the morning of April 27.
Busby gave a lecture and answered questions in Laidlaw Hall after a student centre reception for her installation on the evening of April 27.
“Following her artist’s talk, an important conversation was sparked regarding UCC’s role in the context of reconciliation and the calls to action our community committed itself to,” says Amnesty International Club co-founder Vlad Chindea. “Elder Cat started the evening with a smudging ceremony, ensuring that everyone’s heart could be receptive to the sharing of ideas.”
Students from the Amnesty International Club, led by Chindea and Shaan Hooey, have engaged in efforts to raise awareness about Indigenous rights in Canada. They teamed with visual arts teachers Vesna Krstich and David Holt and English teacher Celia Bowker at the beginning of this academic year to spread that message through contemporary art, which led to the creation of “WE CALL: Upper Canada College.”
All during the week of April 23 to 27, Year 8 students at UCC’s Norval Outdoor School worked with artist and OCAD professor Shannon Gerard and artist Brianna Tosswill to create and publish a newspaper called Just Boys in response to the calls to action as part of the ongoing collaborative art project, Mountain School Bookhouse.
“The Mountain School Bookhouse is a huge quilted tent with fabricated tree trunk legs, plush logs and a cardboard campfire that acts as a pop-up community space,” says Krstich. “This flexible framework is a print and publication studio, a classroom, a social context and a gallery.”
Just Boys was entirely written, drawn and published by students who acted as reporters, illustrators, editors and designers in communicating their adventure activities at Norval and examining their relationship to the Treaty 19 land that the Norval Outdoor School occupies. Students were also able to work with Indigenous elder Garry Sault to draft a new land acknowledgement for Norval.
Just Boys was distributed throughout the UCC community at the conclusion of Truth and Reconciliation Week.
“We wanted to connect the two campuses through some sort of mutual dialogue and to acknowledge and report on the historical importance of the Norval property in particular,” says Krstich.
Indigenous writers were showcased in the Macintosh Library and Spellman set up archival displays in the Upper School during the week. She’ll continue to research the relationship of UCC and its founder Sir John Colborne with First Nations, Métis and Inuit from the school’s founding in 1829 to today.
“When further advanced, her delicate and diligent work will allow us all to be more introspective and better understand our community’s historical and contemporary role within the context of truth and reconciliation towards First Nations, Métis and Inuit,” says Chindea.
“The process of truth and reconciliation is ongoing and begins with developing an awareness of how Indigenous people have been treated inequitably both in the past and in the present,” says Bowker. “Developing that awareness had already started in classrooms, but the week presented the first opportunity to pull together different voices to offer information.”