Sunrise ceremony marks UW's commitment to reconciliation, Indigenization and decolonization

Indigenous peoples at the University of Waterloo are asking for a full commitment to reconciliation, Indigenization and decolonization at the University of Waterloo. A sunrise ceremony was held Thursday morning to begin this new journey.

University of Waterloo president and vice chancellor says it's essential Indigenous leaders guide this work

A woman and a man stand stand side by side outdoors.
Jean Becker (left), assistant vice-president of Indigenous relations at the University of Waterloo and the university's president and vice chancellor, Vivek Goel (right), were part of an Indigenous Commitment ceremony Thursday. (Carmen Groleau/ CBC)

A sunrise ceremony held Thursday at United College's ceremonial fire grounds signalled the University of Waterloo's commitment to reconciliation, Indigenization and decolonization.

Indigenous peoples at the school are asking the university for a full commitment to meaningful work toward the process of reclaiming Indigenous identity and culture.

"We're asking for the commitment because the university has only recently begun to work on Indigenous issues and to create strategies and begun to make sure that we are a welcoming place for Indigenous peoples," Jean Becker, assistant vice-president of Indigenous relations, told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition following the ceremony. 

"I feel this day is going to give notice to everybody at the university of the intention and the seriousness of the work that we're doing," she said.

A man holds out a small bowl to a woman wearing a red coat.
Tobacco was handed out during Thursday's sunrise ceremony to throw into the fire. A pipe ceremony also took place shortly after. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

That work includes the creation of spaces for Indigenous students throughout the institution and the school's effort to hire more Indigenous faculty.

"We're hiring more staff in the critical, central units where we've identified we should have Indigenous people lead the Indigenization efforts that we're undergoing," said Becker.

Renewed commitment

Vivek Goel, the university's president and vice chancellor, said though the university has made similar commitments in the past, it is essential that Indigenous leaders guide this work now.

"Perhaps the commitment has been done in our form, using our strategies and our board rooms," he said. "Today, from a symbolic perspective, we are making the commitment in a set of ceremonies that will be led by our Indigenous community leaders in their form."

A Cedar Circle followed by a pipe ceremony and a traditional feast was also held after the sunrise ceremony.

An indigenous elder holding an eagle feather stands at the centre of a ceremonial fire ground.
Indigenous Knowledge Keeper Myeengun Henry led the sunrise ceremony at United College's Ceremonial Fire Grounds. (Carmen Groleau/CBC)

Indigenous Knowledge Keeper Myeengun Henry, who led Thursday's sunrise ceremony, said the school's commitment is a significant effort that will allow staff, faculty and students to Indigenize the university.

"I've worked at places where it didn't come from the top, but the people wanted to do it and they didn't know how far they could make it work," he said.

"The difference here is that the president and our provost will commit to this," he added.

Going forward, Goel said the school will be taking a fundamental look at how it delivers its programs and how and where it recruits students. 

"That's going to mean changes ... in the kinds of programs we offer so that there are programs that are meaningful for those prospective students," he said. 


Carmen Groleau is a reporter with CBC Kitchener-Waterloo.