A newly installed plaque acknowledging Egerton Ryerson’s contributions to the Residential School System has caused controversies at Ryerson University in Toronto.
According to the Aboriginal Education Council, the controversy around Egerton Ryerson comes from his belief in different systems of education for white and Aboriginal children.
Members of the Ryerson community have expressed concerns that the plaque is not a sufficient step taken by the university.
After years of activism by faculty, students and Ryerson’s Aboriginal Education Council, the plaque was installed on June 25 next to a statue of Ryerson, the former Chief Superintendent of Education in Upper Canada and the university’s namesake.
“Although Ryerson did not implement or oversee residential schools, he contributed to their blueprint,” said Cyndy Baskin, an Indigenous professor in the School of Social Work at Ryerson University. “The Indian Residential School System has had a devastating impact on Indigenous Peoples,” she said at a news conference discussing indigenous concerns, at Ryerson held at the university on Wednesday.
Residential schools were used to remove and isolate Indigenous children from their families, tradition and cultures in order to assimilate them into white culture, according to Indigenous Foundations at the University of British Colombia.
Since the plaque has been put up, students have expressed their concerns. There is also discussion about removing the statue altogether.
“I don’t know if this plaque is convincing to any of the students on campus that this is a finished story or this is a sufficient action. As a gesture of goodwill I think they should tear this down and rename the university, but that is just the first step and still wouldn’t be sufficient,” said Kevin Taghabon, a masters of journalism student.
Sarena Johnson, an Indigenous storyteller in the department of student affairs, said at the news conference, “I do go past the statue and I find it very problematic, I feel like the name probably won’t be changed and it just makes me feel like the truth and reconciliation work that’s been done is tokenistic and hollow.”
Sarah Dennis, an Indigenous student studying social work, disagreed at the news conference. “There is something within the willingness to go through those acts of tokenism that really is what it’s about for me. Cause I’ll be happy to see the statue come down but I’ll be more happy that folks were willing to do that for us and that is a story that continuously is shared.”
In a statement released by Ryerson University at the news conference, spokesperson for the institution Johanna VanderMaas said they are focused on hiring and welcoming more staff, faculty and students from Indigenous communities.
As of now no decisions have been made on the Egerton Ryerson statue or the renaming of the university, she said.