Ryerson University: Five new flags at the Student Learning Centre celebrate Indigenous people and cultures

On May 10, a student walking through the Student Learning Centre noticed five new Indigenous flags flying from the second-floor balcony, representing the Mississaugas of the New Credit, Haudenosaunee (Six Nations of the Grand River Territory), Huron-Wendat, Métis Nation and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami.

The student gave themself a silent ‘Yes,’ recalls Jaleesa Peters, the SLC’s creative and communications coordinator who initiated the flags project, working with partners from across the university.

“That for me was enough. That’s what I want. I feel that our campus is home to many students,” says Peters. “And what we display, such as putting up Indigenous flags, is saying, ‘You matter. You deserve to have space on our walls in our home.’”

Placing the flags in the SLC is important because the building has become the front door of Toronto Met in a lot of ways, says Peters. It’s where a lot of visitors first come when they come to campus. “I wanted that representation to be front and centre of what they see when they come into those front doors of campus. And I think that space allows for an important statement to be made.”

“And hopefully, also, when we have prospective students who are Indigenous and who are traveling in to see the campus, they will think, ‘Oh, hey, I belong here.’”

Peters, whose background is both German and Anishinaabe, reconnected to her Indigenous roots at the university through Aboriginal Student Services and through a course on Indigenous health and well-being. “And that was a really big shift as I started to understand and connect and know who I was on a deeper level.”

During the Canada 150 anniversary in 2017, when the university was putting up Canadian flags, Peters asked about the possibility of putting up flags that represent the broader community. “I am not the only voice and I am not representing all Indigenous Peoples,” says Peters. “But I do want to do my part to make sure that Indigenous voices are heard and the Indigenous community feels seen.”

The team at the SLC, with Peters’ direction, created a proposal for the flags, consulted with a wide range of community members and put up the flags in May, just before Peters set off on her maternity leave. From right: Jaleesa Peters, creative and communications coordinator; Chris Visser, strategic projects liaison; Michael Liew, building officer, communications and external relations; Anna Nguyen, manager SLC operations.

Michael Liew, SLC building officer, reached out to stakeholders in the Office of Aboriginal Initiatives, Aboriginal Student Services and the Aboriginal Education Council to get their thoughts on the initiative. He worked closely with Peters to get the initiative off the ground and later coordinated the installation with FMD.

“We are very proud to increase Indigenous representation in a central, high-traffic, high-visibility space like the SLC Amphitheatre,” said Liew. “We hope the flags raise more awareness of Indigenous issues, spark a conversation and further learning, celebrate Indigenous culture, and act as a reminder of the land on which TMU operates.”

Elder Joanne Dallaire recalls that when the SLC team approached her about the initiative, she thought it was a great idea. The flags, says Dallaire, help Indigenous people feel recognized and welcome at the university.

There are so many different Indigenous nations in Ontario and Dallaire says it is important for them to be represented in these flags. She agrees with Peters that these five flags are just the beginning and they would like to expand the amount of flags so they are more inclusive of all Indigenous nations.