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Reflections on The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation September 30, 2021

September 30 is a time for Canadians to reflect on the ongoing and tragic legacy of residential schools.

It is also a time to acknowledge McMaster University’s commitment as an institution to reconciliation and to promote avenues for campus community members to acknowledge this day of remembrance.

Take a look at some of the recommended readings, actions and reflections to recognize this day from our faculty members and students who are allies to Indigenous Peoples and advocates of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI).

McMaster Engineering PhD student, James LeMoine shares his reflection on Truth and Reconciliation Day.
James LeMoine, PhD student, Mechanical Engineering, IBET Scholarship Winner. James is Anishinaabe from the Mississauga of the Credit First Nation and part of the Migizi (Eagle) clan: 

James LeMoine is the recipient of the 2021 Indigenous and Black Engineering/Technology (IBET) PhD Fellowship in the Faculty of Engineering. He completed his undergraduate and master's degree at McMaster University and is currently researching electro hydrodynamics (EHD) with the ultimate goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the carbon footprint. 

James shares a powerful reflection on residential schools, how he has been personally impacted by our tragic history, and recommendations on how our community can work toward truth and reconciliation:

"When I started high school, I attended an Indigenous students camp to promote post-secondary education. In this camp we were taken to the Mohawk Institute which is a residential school in Brantford.

We learned of the horrors that happened to children that were even younger than us at the time, just because they were different.

It was a very somber and emotional environment as we were told stories of children being abused, mistreated, and even tortured with the goal of making them a more “civilized” human.

After that trip I wanted to learn more. I asked my family about the residential schools and I learned that we had close relatives that had been in that same school. One of my mother’s uncles said he was one of the lucky kids, as his parents were able to drive past the school and he could see them from behind the school windows. He would not talk about any other details from his time there.

I asked about my grandmother and learned she was able to avoid being put into one of the schools because she was more fair skinned than her siblings. Just because of her skin colour, her grandmother was able to take her off the reserve and enrolled her in a normal public school. She was told to never speak her language, to never tell anyone where they are from, and to never tell anyone she was Indigenous.

She grew up with these morals and she grew to hate her culture and her Indigenous roots. The goal of the residential system worked on her even though she never stepped foot in one.

Our family lost our culture and over the past 30 years, my mother and her siblings have been working hard to relearn our culture. They had to convince my grandmother that it was OK to be Indigenous and to tell people she was indigenous rather than deny it. They’ve since made it a priority to continue relearning and to go to the ceremonies and traditional gatherings. Our family continues to relearn our ways from family and elders, while also trying to relearn our language.

To me, reconciliation is to try to rebuild the Indigenous culture that was taken through the residential school system. It is to honor and learn about the culture and traditions of the land we live on. 

We need to recognize the people that lived here before and respect their way of living, respect each group as their own people, with their own way of living and their own leadership. We need to support the survivors of residential schools by giving them access to resources they need and we must provide Indigenous Peoples the same privileges every other citizen has including clean drinking water. Indigenous people should be included in decisions involving Indigenous rights and decisions that impact the Indigenous community.

While I continue to learn, I mostly enjoy reading books about the Indigenous culture and stories that were passed on from our elders. However, I’ve read some great books that are about history, residential schools, and reconciliation as well. I’ve noted all of them below: 

Jamal Deen, Distinguished University Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Honorary Co-Chair of the African Caribbean Faculty Association of McMaster (ACFAM):

“The word reconcile means restore friendship, find a way to coexist in harmony, resolve differences amicably, or to accept past wrongdoings and make amends. It is important that reconciliation be based on the full truth for it to have a lasting effect. In Canada, we have had a Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was reported in 2015.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report from 2015 says, 'These residential schools were created for the purpose of separating Indigenous children from their families, in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate children into a new culture—the culture of the legally dominant Euro-Christian Canadian society, led by Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald.'

It is important to progress quickly in addressing the historical injustices against our Indigenous peoples, especially on the residential school system, through appropriate and concrete reconciliation measures and actions in a timely manner. It is equally important that the Indigenous Peoples be actively involved in implementing the reconciliation measures, in evaluating the progress, and in making recommendations for improvements.”

Here are some recommended readings:

Kim Jones, Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering, Chair, Ontario Network of Women in Engineering:

 “As a mother, I am deeply moved by the tragic legacy of residential schools. But today is not about me; it is about learning, listening and reading to discover how we can approach reconciliation in the future.

As we consider decolonising our own spaces, I recommend reading this article (Thinking about Racism in Engineering Education in New Ways by Joel Alejandro Mejia, Renata A. Revelo, and Alice L. Pawley), which effectively frames the racism embedded in our institutions and gives concrete next steps.

Since I’m also involved in outreach, I thought this article (Decolonizing education with Anishinaabe arcs: generative STEM as a path to indigenous futurity by Ron Eglash, Michael Lachney, William Babbitt, Audrey Bennett, Martin Reinhardt and James Davis) had some great reflections on culturally situated design tools (more here: https://csdt.org/ ). Engineers (including me!) often struggle to see how settler perspectives have shaped our learning, so I am really looking forward to reading Decolonizing academia: poverty, oppression and pain by Clelia O. Rodríguez."

Heather Sheardown, Acting Dean, Faculty of Engineering:

"The tragedy of the residential schools in Canada is on our minds, today in particular. Our thoughts are with those who survived and the families whose lives were forever changed. Unfortunately, we cannot change the past but we can acknowledge and reflect on it and use those reflections to guide our path forward with a goal of creating the kind of open and accepting society that supports and benefits all. Let’s keep the conversation going."

Charles de Lannoy, Assistant Professor, Department of Chemical Engineering:

"We are continually striving to apply a reconciliation lens to our research, which has been guided by our First Nations partners, informed by our experiences and challenges, and reinforced by the experience of others, for example, as presented in these 10 calls to action for natural scientists.”  

Additional Resources and Actionable Items from McMaster University

Here's a guide to virtual campus events on September 30, as well as guidance for instructors, students and employees who wish to take time on this day of recognition to reflect, listen and learn.