President Brown: Raising the flags at YukonU
On October 15 we shared the Presidents Council’s decision to keep the Yukon University flags lowered until further notice in recognition of the confirmation of the many unmarked graves of Indigenous children found on Canadian Residential School grounds across Canada. Many other organizations and governments did the same. There was a national debate in November on when was the appropriate time to raise the flags of the Federal Government, they were then raised during Remembrance Day ceremonies and have remained up.
We have struggled with the question of when is appropriate to raise the Yukon University flags. The truth is there is no number of half-mast flag days that would adequately honour this tremendous realization our nation is reckoning with. It is a deep wound that has been opened and the only way to heal is to have honest discussions, check our own biases and privileges and to purposely move forward together. As an institute of learning, we have a responsibility to provide safe opportunities to have these discussions in a constructive way which is why we decided to keep the flags down for an extended period.
We are also aware that such discussions have waned and perhaps seeing a lowered flag is no longer as impactful for some, and for others it is a painful reminder of the devastation that Canadian Residential Schools have caused. For these reasons, we believe the flags should be raised at an appropriate time.
The AVP, Indigenous Engagement and Partnership and the First Nation Initiatives team have suggested Winter Solstice as an appropriate time because of its special connection to Indigenous cultures. They shared the following insight with us:
“Many Indigenous cultures are deeply connected to the lunar cycle and with the inevitable arrival of each season. Each season has a purpose and time dedicated to important activities and focus on specific things. Autumn is a time where life slows down, a time for rest and a time to let things go. Our time is spent in the darkness of the retreating sun, by reflecting on the past, mourning loss, healing and building strength. It is seen as a spiritual time when individuals take time to be alone and focus on their inner selves. Winter is a time of renewal and a time to honour the return of the light, hope and optimism. As we move into winter, we take the time to rest, to dream and to heal while enjoying the slow return of the sun knowing that soon Spring will be here and along with it, new life.”
President’s Council agrees that it is appropriate to recognize the return of the light and hope for a renewal that will further our healing journey by raising the flags the day after the Winter Solstice (Dec. 22). Although we realize that history and grief such as this cannot be reflected on in just a few months and then people would be ready to let it go and move on, we also feel it is important to encourage hope and promote positive ways to continue the healing.
We do not want the conversations to end, we want to shine light on these issues and help survivors tell their truth. To this end we will:
Explore appropriate permissions required to raise a special flag each time these losses are confirmed to honour those that attended residential school;
Fly university flags at half-mast during Truth and Reconciliation Week every year;
Create and install a plaque explaining the significance of the special flag and honouring the children who didn’t come home and Residential School survivors;
Continue to provide opportunities for YukonU faculty, staff and students to continue to learn about Canada’s Indigenous peoples and how we can all contribute to reconciliation; and
Develop a stand-alone YukonU policy and process for flying, raising and lowering flags at Ayamdigut Campus.
We encourage you all to reflect on this past year and how this confirmation has changed how we see ourselves and Canada. Look for opportunities to have discussions with your colleagues, friends and family about our shared history. Think about what you can do differently in the future to advance our understanding and contribute to healthier relationships and healing.
All good wishes,