National Day for Truth and Reconciliation at SFU: Recap

October 04, 2021
Elder Syexwaliya (Skwxwu7mesh Uxwumixw) shares “Syexwaliya’s Song” at Burnaby campus, a song to greet the day and open Truth and Reconciliation Week at SFU.

Between September 27 – October 1, SFU marked the university’s first National Truth and Reconciliation week in solidarity with Indigenous peoples across the country.

In ceremonies across SFU’s three campuses, Indigenous youth, Elders, and Indigenous SFU community members shared personal stories of the effects of residential schools, the meaning of reconciliation and decolonization, and the persistence of Indigenous knowledge and culture.

“Every indigenous native person is a descendant of either a residential school survivor or a day scholar, sometimes both. I think of all the things that they went through,” shared Elder Syexwaliya (Ann Whonnock) at the Burnaby campus event on September 27. Elder Syexwaliya has been a longtime guide to Indigenous students and non-Indigenous allies at SFU, through her work with the Indigenous Student Centre (ISC) and as a consultant for SFU. Syexwaliya recently graduated from the Beedie School of Business’s MBA Indigenous Business and Leadership program.

“Wear that orange in recognition – 215 children at Kamloops started the investigation into unmarked graves of children,” Syexwaliya continued. “And now those children, and others, they finally have peace. And some of them are being identified and their families are having closure. Say prayers for them, and help their families with their healing.”

SFU Surrey campus staff in orange. Photo: Warren Bandzmer
SFU’s athletics teams wore orange for their game warm-ups on National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

During the week of events, SFU’s Indigenous community members called upon non-Indigenous allies to reflect, and take action to advance reconciliation.

“Over the summer and the past couple months, the impact of the news and ongoing events that have occurred have really impacted our Indigenous community members, Indigenous faculty, staff and students, and we have to be cognisant of that moving forward. I’m only one generation out of the residential school system, and I’m only 26,” said Matthew Provost, VP Student Services at the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) and First Nations Student Association member. “I want to acknowledge the work that it has taken our Indigenous students, alumni and faculty to be able to have the opportunity to feel supported within the institution. I think it’s important to always make space for Indigenous students.”

Gary George, Officer for Community Relations from the SFU Office for Aboriginal Peoples, leads the Burnaby campus ceremony attendees in a drum song.

At the Burnaby campus event, Gary George, Officer for Community Relations with the SFU Office for Aboriginal Peoples, emphasized the value of partnerships in moving forward, and invited non-Indigenous members of the university community to join him onstage and try drumming for the first time. George led the group in a song acknowledging the origins of the assembled crowd, as settlers to this land.

The Burnaby campus ceremony concluded with a song for reconciliation, led by the First Nations Student Association.

“I believe that education can be a tool to make change, to build proper supports, and to also educate each other on these issues. [Education allows us] to be able to build collective capacity to what we want reconciliation to be,” said Provost.

Thank you to the Indigenous speakers for their leadership in recognizing this day:

  • Elder Margaret George, Skawahlook First Nation 
  • Elder Syexwaliya (Ann Whonnock), Skwxwu7mesh Uxwumixw (Squamish Nation)
  • Elder Seis’lom, Stl’atl’imx First Nation
  • Ron Johnston, Director, SFU Office for Aboriginal Peoples
  • Gary George, Officer for Community Relations, SFU Office for Aboriginal Peoples
  • Jessica La Rochelle, Director, Indigenous Student Recruitment & Admissions, SFU Student Services
  • Matthew Provost, VP Student Services, Simon Fraser Student Society
  • Kali Stierle, Board Member, SFU First Nations Student Association
  • Keianna James, Board Member, SFU First Nations Student Association
  • Audrey Heath, Board Member, SFU First Nations Student Association/Communications Program Assistant, SFU Indigenous Student Centre

The Burnaby ceremony is available to view online. Read about SFU’s actions to advance reconciliation in the latest report.