A photo taken at the National Indigenous Peoples Day Drumming Ceremony on June 21, 2021. Photo by Dale Northey.

Walking together towards inclusion

June 29, 2021

Content warning: Residential schools.

Last Thursday, we received devastating news of an additional 751 unmarked graves at the former Marieval Indian Residential School. This comes less than a month after 215 unmarked graves were found at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School. As I think of all these Indigenous children and adults who never returned home, as well as those that have not yet been found, my heart goes out to the Indigenous communities across our province and our country.

At SFU Surrey, with great humility, we took a small step to honour those lost. Led by the extraordinary facilities team at the SFU Surrey campus, 216 chairs were set up in the Mezz and faculty, staff, students and the community at large brought in toys and clothes to be donated to the Maxxine Wright Shelter, a women’s shelter in Surrey run by Atira. Of the chairs, 215 represented the children lost at the Kamloops residential school. The 216th chair was a space to represent the many children yet to be found. And so, with Marieval and other former residential school locations, this number has now gone well beyond 215.

On National Indigenous Peoples Day (June 21), led by Ron Johnston and Gary George from SFU's Office for Aboriginal Peoples and Kevin Kelly and Michael Kelly-Gabriel from Kwantlen First Nation, we held a drumming ceremony in the Mezz to remember the children lost. It was a reflective, sad and wonderful event all at the same time.

National Indigenous Peoples Day is one of numerous celebrations of diversity and respect that take place in the month of June. Events such as Juneteenth (June 19), World Refugee Day (June 20), Canadian Multiculturalism Day (June 27), and Pride Day (June 28) remind me of the diversity and multiculturalism that is woven into the fabric of our society. All of these are very important events that SFU acknowledges and supports.

Like National Indigenous People’s Day, it is fair to say that all these celebrations made a pivot this year. There was a shift from being less about fun and having a good time to being introspective and more inward-looking as we try to make sense of the dissonance between what we hope diversity can be in Canada and all that has happened in the last while. I, for one, cannot stop thinking of what took place in London, Ontario on June 6. An amazing family, out for an evening walk, run down in an Islamophobic act of hatred.

We have a long way to go in Canada to truly and effectively operationalize what it means to be a country that authentically supports diversity, equity and inclusion. For me, it is an important time to reach out to Indigenous communities and ethnically diverse groups and ask a simple question: what can I do to be an ally to your community?

I do know that a big part of allyship is education. We all have the responsibility to teach ourselves about what is really going on in Canada. It is our responsibility to listen, learn with humility, and take action whenever we see injustice. I encourage you to visit SFU’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion (EDI) website and find out how you can get involved in our collective efforts to foster a safe and inclusive environment at SFU Surrey. I also invite you to explore our list of EDI resources and I hope that these will help shape your everyday interactions and inspire you to engage in intentional and respectful conversations with others. Lastly, I suggest you take the time to read the reports and findings from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

As we renew our commitment towards building a community that celebrates diversity and inclusion, I call upon our campus community to do the same. There is still a long journey ahead, and this process will require openness and patience. I encourage you all to continue to be kind and gentle with one another, and remember that we are stronger together.

Beyond the blog

For Indigenous students, faculty and staff, please access support if you need it. 

  • Community:
    • The Indian Residential School Survivors Society is available at 1-800-721-0066, along with a 24-hour crisis line at 1-866-925-4419 for those who need immediate support.
    • The KUU-US Crisis Line Society provides an Indigenous-specific crisis line available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's toll-free and can be reached at 1-800-588-8717.
    • The First Nations Health Authority offers support specifically for survivors and families who have been directly impacted by the Indian residential school system.