National Day for Truth and Reconciliation at SFU: Recap
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.
Ron Johnston, Director, SFU Office for Aboriginal Peoples, shares a personal story about intergenerational trauma directly related to the residential school system.
Staff from the Indigenous Student Centre encouraged attendees to reflect on the meaning of reconciliation and take part in cultural activities.
Attendees gather at the SFU Vancouver campus ceremony.
Elder Syexwaliya leads attendees in song and movement at Vancouver campus.
The Surrey campus ceremony included a drumming procession from Surrey City Hall to Holland Park.
SFU Office for Aboriginal Peoples staff, left to right: Ron Johnston, Director and Gary George, Officer for Community Relations.
SFU President Joy Johnson and SFU Surrey campus Executive Director Steve Dooley join in drumming at the Surrey campus ceremony.
"It's a really important day for us to remember and honour the survivors and the living impact of residential schools," said Kali Stierle, a board member of SFU's First Nations Student Association, at Holland Park (SFU Surrey ceremony).
“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.”
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.”
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