Ryerson University’s First Nations-led think tank, the Yellowhead Institute, has issued an open letter saying their students and staff will no longer be using the university’s name in their email signatures and social media and will replace it with “X University” instead.
Egerton Ryerson is considered an architect of Canada’s residential school system, which aimed to convert and assimilate Indigenous children into white Canadian culture.
The letter was published May 11, a few days before Ryerson’s Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force wrapped up its two month investigation on “what the university can do to reconcile the history of Egerton Ryerson and how the university should approach commemoration.”
The group included academics, faculty and students, both past and present and was asked to conduct “broad consultations” with students, faculty, staff, alumni and others.
The university says the task force conducted “thorough community engagement between March 16 and May 16” and are now reviewing the “extensive and thoughtful submissions” from over 6,000 respondents.
In a statement to CityNews regarding the recent defacing of the Ryerson statue, the university declined to comment, saying the task force’s final report will be delivered to the President and Board of Governors in the fall.
“It is expected to include recommended actions regarding the statue and provide principles for future decision-making about commemoration at the University,” they said. “The University respects the independence of the the Standing Strong (Mash Koh Wee Kah Pooh Win) Task Force and it would be premature for the university to comment at this time on matters that may be included in their final report and recommendations.”
The open letter by ‘The Indigenous Students at X University’ says the task force’s focus on the statue and “curating an academic debate on the degree of harm Ryerson is actually responsible for” was entirely misguided and did not address the trauma Indigenous members of the university community have endured.
“The task force itself is a symptom of a broader problem. We don’t hold anything against members who’ve joined in an effort to pursue some degree of change. But it was designed to answer the wrong questions,” the letter reads. “For us, there is no debate about reconciling Ryerson’s legacy. It doesn’t matter how many non-Indigenous historians send their fawning letters of support for Egerton. From an Indigenous student perspective, it cannot be reconciled.”
They say the only solution is to change the university’s name, which it has done three times in the past.
Until the demand is met, the group is asking for the Ryerson community to stand in solidarity with them and “erase Ryerson” by removing the university’s current name — a “symbol of cultural genocide and intergenerational trauma” — from all email signatures, resumes and any other professional communications and replacing it with an ‘X’.
“Please help us reframe the conversation so that we are no longer forced to debate our humanity,” they concluded.