A sunrise ceremony held Thursday at United College’s formal fire ground signaled the University of Waterloo’s commitment to reconciliation, indigenization and dissolution.
Indigenous people at the school are asking the university for a full commitment to meaningful work towards the process of reclaiming indigenous identity and culture.
“We are asking for commitment because the university has recently started working on Indigenous issues and to strategize and make sure we are a welcoming place for Indigenous peoples,” Gene Baker, assistant vice president of relations, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo morning edition after the ceremony.
“I think this day is going to give notice to everyone at the university about the intent and the seriousness of the work that we are doing,” she said.
That work includes creating spaces for Indigenous students throughout the institution and the school’s effort to hire more Indigenous faculty.
“We are hiring more employees in critical, central units, where we have identified that indigenous people should lead indigenization efforts,” Baker said.
University President and Vice-Chancellor Vivek Goel said that though the university has made similar commitments in the past, it is necessary that indigenous leaders guide this work now.
“Perhaps the commitment has been made in our form using our strategies and our board room,” he said. “Today, from a symbolic standpoint, we are making a commitment to a set of celebrations that will be led by our Indigenous community leaders as themselves.”
A cedar mandala followed by a piping ceremony and a traditional feast were also held after the sunrise ceremony.
Indigenous knowledge defender Myengun Henry, who led Thursday’s sunrise ceremony, said the school’s commitment is a significant effort that will allow staff, faculty and students to indigenize the university.
“I’ve worked in places where it didn’t come from above, but people wanted to do it and they didn’t know how far they could work it,” he said.
“The difference here is that the president and our provost will commit to it,” he said.
Going forward, Goyal said that the school will take a fundamental look at how it delivers its programs and how and where it recruits students.
“What this means is that changes … the types of programs we offer have programs that are meaningful to those potential students,” he said.