News / Toronto

How one group of U of T staff bridges the gap between Indigenous, non-Indigenous people

Staff members at the university's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education make a habit out of attending Indigenous events like art exhibits or powwows during downtime.

Members of the OISE Staff Indigenous Alliance at last year's powwow, which took place at U of T's downtown campus.

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Members of the OISE Staff Indigenous Alliance at last year's powwow, which took place at U of T's downtown campus.

Staff members at U of T's Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) have found a way to make good use of their downtime: learning about Indigenous people and culture.

It's become something of a habit over the past year for the group to immerse itself in new experiences. That may mean going to a powwow on campus, attending a lecture on Indigenous history, checking out an Indigenous art exhibit or even just going to an Indigenous restaurant for lunch.

"You feel like there's a big divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. We've got to try and break that. It's our responsibility," said Lisa Watson, who works in OISE's registrar's office and was the driving force behind what's now known as the Indigenous Alliance.

"We need to be actively involved with Indigenous people and build relationships with them, instead of feeling as if we're not welcome."

The idea started in March when Watson attended an on-campus lecture that touched on urban reconciliation. She recalls one of the speakers, U of T director of Indigenous studies Jonathan Hamilton-Diabo, urging non-Indigenous people to step up and learn about Indigenous history and culture.

Along with taking in new experiences, the alliance has helped organize the school's arm of Orange Shirt Day to commemorate residential school survivors and helped arrange tours of the Shame and Prejudice exhibit at U of T's arts museum.

The group is already planning how to keep the learning going in 2018.

"Indigenous people are speaking to us in a lot of different ways, and we need to listen to them," Watson said.

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