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Recognizing National Indigenous History Month and Indigenous Peoples Day

A message from the President and Vice-President (Indigenous)

June 15, 2021 — 

The following is a joint message from University of Manitoba President and Vice-Chancellor Michael Benarroch and Vice-President (Indigenous) Dr. Catherine Cook.

Dr. Michael Benarroch, President and Vice-Chancellor:

The immense importance of reconciliation is never far from my mind, and in these recent weeks, it has come into even greater focus. How appropriate then that I have my first opportunity, as President and Vice-Chancellor, to acknowledge June as National Indigenous History Month and June 21 as National Indigenous Peoples Day.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, I have had the opportunity to connect with members of the Indigenous community through virtual events like the inaugural Asper Research Conference on Indigenous Business and Indigenous graduation celebration. I look forward to connecting in person when safe to do so and continuing to build those relationships.

On National Indigenous Peoples Day, we celebrate the rich histories, cultures, traditions and contributions of First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. I was thrilled to learn the largest cohort of Indigenous graduates in UM history – 582 – was recently recognized at convocation, and members of the UM community were honoured with Indspire Awards and Indigenous Awards of Excellence.

While there is much to celebrate as we honour the achievements of members of the Indigenous community, collective grief and anger also wash over Turtle Island. A horrific piece of history was brought to light in the discovery of the remains of hundreds of children in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc (Kamloops) and at other former residential school sites across Canada – the lasting effects of the residential school system and colonization still poignant today.

UM, in partnership with the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation and Indigenous partners, is committed to moving forward on the path to reconciliation. Beginning with truth is critical.

We are in a unique position to study and work at an institution with many resources, events and learning opportunities available, and I encourage everyone to make the time to engage with these opportunities.

Everyone must continue to learn – and unlearn – every day. Listen to Indigenous voices. Build connections with Indigenous Elders, students, staff, faculty, leaders and communities. Engage in meaningful dialogue. And do your homework: read the history of residential schools, read Survivors’ stories, read The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls and read the 94 Calls to Action. We cannot say we support Truth and Reconciliation without a willingness to learn the truth.

To the Indigenous community leading us in this journey: thank you for your innumerable contributions, for sharing your perspectives and knowledge(s), and for continuing to drive change at UM and beyond.

On National Indigenous Peoples Day and every day, we celebrate and honour you. A stronger future for all peoples lies ahead because of you.

Dr. Catherine Cook, Vice-President (Indigenous):

As we mark National Indigenous History Month, it is evident that Canadian history still does not reflect Indigenous history. People across the country and around the globe are reacting with shock to the discovery of the remains of 215 Indigenous children found in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc and now, at additional sites across the country, but this discovery is not surprising to Indigenous communities who have talked about unmarked graves at residential “schools” for decades.

I’d like to share a story about how I see Canada’s role in reflecting Indigenous history.

Like many families, mine enjoys pizza night. One night, after a tragic bus crash stopped the nation in its tracks, my daughter answered the door when the pizza delivery arrived. She was wearing a green ribbon as a symbol of support for the families whose lives had been changed forever. The pizza deliverer was also wearing a ribbon, only his was orange. He acknowledged her ribbon, listened to her story of what it meant to her and said, “Let me explain why mine is orange.” He shared that his children learned about the residential school system in class and they taught him about the harms caused and the intergenerational trauma that continues today. This was new information to him, and he felt the responsibility to understand and share it.

Like this individual, all Canadians must make it a priority to understand Indigenous history, embrace it, share it and take responsibility for the development of a better Canada.

June is also a time when we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day, a time for us to recognize excellence in Inuit, Métis and First Nations communities. Throughout the pandemic, we have witnessed countless Indigenous students, staff, faculty and alumni go above and beyond.

Dr. Marcia Anderson, Melanie MacKinnon and Melody Muswaggon have all played essential roles in protecting First Nations communities. Métis professor Dr. Michelle Driedger has been leading research on understanding public health communications so people can better understand how they can protect themselves. Despite the new challenges of remote learning, the largest cohort of Indigenous students graduated this year, including Nicole Luke, who may be the first Inuk to complete an architecture program in Canada.

These are just a few examples of the incredible successes that we invite all UM community members to share in honouring.

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