International students and newcomers to Canada need support to fully understand the country’s Indigenous community, especially after the uncovering of atrocities committed at residential schools in the country, a leader at a university has said.
Writing in The Toronto Star, executive director for International Student Enrolment, Education & Inclusion at Ryerson University, Isaac Garcia-Sitton, called for future generations to be taught about the historical and jurisdictional issues that Indigenous populations have faced.
Only then, will international students be “prepared to advocate for Indigenous rights as they progress into society”, he stated.
“For years, Canadian universities have developed support services for international students, without accounting for the equally important cultural inclusion required for new immigrants to understand, acknowledge, and address the historic injustices committed against Canada’s Indigenous peoples,” Garcia-Sitton said.
There is a need to “critically reflect” on post-secondary institutions’ responsibility to educate and engage international students as “they will undoubtedly be part of the long and complex journey ahead of us”, he continued.
During 2021, remains were discovered in hundreds of unmarked graves across former schools in the country. Most of them were remains of children.
Indigenous communities estimate that between 10,000 to 50,000 youths went to residential schools and never returned home. The victims are known as the “missing children”.
Wilton Littlechild, a lawyer and former grand chief of the Confederacy of Treaty Six First Nations, said that Canadians were shocked in 2021 after ground-penetrating radar searches located the unmarked graves.
“Most Canadians grew up not knowing anything about it,” he said last year. The children were often abused in the residential school system, which has been described as “one of the darkest chapters in Canadian history”. The system has had “profoundly lasting and damaging impact on Indigenous culture, heritage, and language”, according to prime minister Justin Trudeau.
“It has taken a lot of strained reflection for me, like many other naturalised citizens, to evolve from a state of shock and disappointment to a realisation that we have a shared responsibility to educate newer members of our community, so they know the truth, and subsequently do their part towards reconciliation,” Garcia-Sitton added.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission – which Littlechild has served on – “requires K-12 schools to incorporate curriculum on the legacy of residential schools to create cultural awareness of the true history of Canada so future generations are prepared to advocate for Indigenous rights as they progress into society”, Garcia-Sitton noted.
“It is important that they understand that they have a role to play in its healing”
“International students, an increasing number of whom become landed immigrants and adopt Canada as their home, also require support,” he continued.
“As these students begin to shape their identities as members of this community, it is important that they understand that they have a role to play in its healing, and that we are a nation coming to terms with its past.”
With a “unique opportunity to educate international students about Indigenous history”, universities can begin by “developing educational resources, encouraging dialogue, and creating ways to engage with Indigenous history and culture”, he added.
Ryerson is “taking steps toward positive change”, including the renaming of the institution, Garcia-Sitton said. Students choosing to return to their home countries after studying in Canada “could further support Global Affairs Canada’s goal of deepening partnerships and advancing the rights of Indigenous peoples and around the world”, he concluded.