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A dancer spins at a pow wow held at the University of Toronto on March 11, 2017. (Credit: Hannah James)

A new program aims to equip U of T Engineering staff and faculty with the tools to build their understanding of the history, truths and culture of Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Development of the Indigenous Cultural Competency Toolkit began in February 2021 and was led by Sienna Gagner (ChemE 2T0+PEY), Equity and Inclusion Programs Coordinator in U of T Engineering’s Office of Diversity, Inclusion & Professionalism. Gagner consulted with Professor Jason Bazylak (MIE & ISTEP), the Dean’s Advisor on Indigenous Initiatives, and leadership at U of T’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives.

“Everyone is at a different point along the journey toward truth, reconciliation and relationship building,” says Bazylak. “This toolkit is designed to build foundational knowledge first — to provide concrete opportunities for students, staff and faculty to begin this learning, or expand their understanding of the rich history and diverse cultures of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Establishing this groundwork is where we have to start.”

Gagner received the Hatch Engineering Aboriginal Scholarship when she began her undergraduate studies in the Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry in 2016. She chose to pursue the toolkit project to explore her Indigenous identity, connected with the Muskrat French Métis culture in Wallaceburg, Pain Court, and Grande Pointe, Ont., and to create pathways for members of the U of T Engineering community to raise their knowledge of Indigenous culture.

The toolkit comprises three modules. The first includes a two-part virtual session called ‘Speaking Our Truths: The Journey Toward Reconciliation,’ facilitated by John Croutch, a cultural competency training officer in U of T’s Office of Indigenous Initiatives. Participants will also join the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, to be offered virtually this summer. Modules 2 and 3 encourage participants to experience Indigenous culture and expand their own learning through recommended books, papers, films and additional resources. This includes encouraging virtual attendance at the U of T Indigenous Studies Student Union’s Honouring Our Students Pow Wow on June 19, 2021.

The toolkit will also be accessible to students working, researching and teaching in U of T Engineering over Summer 2021. Students who complete all three modules will have their participation reflected on their co-curricular record. All participants will receive a certificate of completion.

The program acts on two recommendations from the 2018 Blueprint for Action report created by the Eagles’ Longhouse Engineering Indigenous Initiatives Steering Committee: to implement ongoing cultural competency training for all staff and faculty, and to run regular Blanket Exercise events for students, staff and faculty. The Eagles’ Longhouse was tasked with identifying how U of T Engineering could respond to the 34 calls to action identified by U of T’s Truth & Reconciliation Steering Committee.

The education-focused framework is one step in improving Indigenous inclusivity in the Faculty, says Marisa Sterling, P.Eng., Assistant Dean and Director of Diversity, Inclusion and Professionalism.

“This summer, we’re starting with truths, acknowledgement and understanding,” says Sterling. “Future work will build on this foundation. This Fall, my office will support the administration of talking circles within departments, divisions, institutes and staff groups to reflect on their personal learning journeys and experiences. Everyone is called upon to set actions to (re)build a positive relationship between U of T Engineering and Indigenous People. I look forward to supporting programming, collaborations and explorations of Indigenous ways of knowing in a way that is meaningful to Indigenous voices in an engineering context.”

Register to participate in Indigenous Cultural Competency Toolkit programming

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