Lakehead University’s Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux looks forward to fulfilling her new responsibilities after being introduced as Lakehead’s first chair on truth and reconciliation.
“I am going to be doing a lot of the external relations locally, regionally and nationally,” says Wesley-Esquimaux, who was previously Lakehead’s vice provost (Aboriginal Initiatives). “We do a lot of conversations anyway right across the board. We meet with other universities, we meet with the presidents of universities, we meet with faculty, we do a lot of work with ministries, we do a lot of conversations on reconciliation, on the history, training, teaching, engaging. I work with youth right across the country.”
The new chair on truth and reconciliation position was established to highlight and further the work guided by Lakehead’s Strategic and Academic Plans, and to ensure that Lakehead responds appropriately and effectively to the recommendations outlined in the Report on Truth and Reconciliation.
“There is already lots of activity; I know we have a long way to go and I know there are still some really challenging opinions and commentary in places,” Wesley-Esquimaux says. “But I think we have a really good opportunity here to stand up as a university in a community like northwestern Ontario and say we’re ready to do this, we’re ready to have these conversations and we’re ready to engage the community at every level we possibly can to ensure that our students are very well represented in that fora and that other students out there have hope that the future of this country is going to be very inclusive of everybody and that they have a role to play.”
Wesley-Esquimaux’s new role includes leading the development of a plan that articulates Lakehead’s response to the Report on Truth and Reconciliation; supporting and leading as required Lakehead’s focus on Aboriginal/Indigenous priorities; and advising Lakehead President and Vice-Chancellor Brian Stevenson and other executive team members on provincial and national issues regarding Indigenous peoples.
“The appointment of our first chair on truth and reconciliation comes at the same time that Lakehead students from around the world are starting their undergraduate programs that incorporate our unique Indigenous Content Requirement,” Stevenson says. “These efforts show that Lakehead University is leading the way when it comes to educating students about Aboriginal issues and Canada’s past, and we will continue to lead the way with advocacy and assistance from Dr. Wesley-Esquimaux.”
Carolyn Bennet, minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, and David Zimmer, minister of Indigenous Relations and Reconciliation, were among the dignitaries who attended Wesley-Esquimaux’s introduction for her new role.
“It’s totally exciting and exhilarating that (someone of) Cynthia’s stature and experience (and) just diligence now has this chair that allows her the freedom to be able to determine what she thinks is needed and how we go forward not only in the academy here at the university but in the province and in the country,” Bennett says. “This becomes sort of a stronghold of commitment that we hope will happen from coast to coast to coast.”
David Zimmer adds that Wesley-Esquimaux will be able to make use of all of her experiences, political and otherwise, in her new position.
“She understands deeply the issues facing Indigenous peoples in Ontario,” Zimmer says. “She has years and years of experience and has insights that only come with that depth of experience. I am looking forward to her leadership and having her share her insights with me and everyone else who has an interest in this issue.”
Wesley-Esquimaux says her relationships with many federal and provincial politicians will be a benefit for her new position.
“It is definitely a benefit,” Wesley-Esquimaux says. “I don’t think you could have a position like this that didn’t have those kinds of relationships because it makes everything that much easier to be able to reach into the federal government and have those conversations and to reach into the provincial government.”