Truth and reconciliation starts with listening

Retired professor George Raithby is helping First Nations, Inuit and Métis students achieve their educational goals

By Alex Kinsella Office of Advancement

We all’have a responsibility to truth and reconciliation in Canada, which is to acknowledge the true history and legacy of residential school systems, work to right injustices and prevent such atrocities from happening again. Approaching truth and reconciliation begins with an open mind, an open heart, and a willingness to learn and listen.

This simple act of listening to First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples sharing their stories, knowledge and needs helped guide George Raithby toward the next step on his reconciliation journey.

Raithby is a retired University of Waterloo professor and co-founder of Advanced Scientific Computing who approached the University with a request. He wanted to donate to support Indigenous students, but he wasn’t sure what the actual needs were.

The University’s Office of Indigenous Relations opened its doors to Raithby to share Indigenous students’ experiences and help him understand their needs as they work towards their degrees.

Robin Stadelbauer, Associate Director of Indigenous Relations and a member of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, says the most significant barrier for Indigenous students in post-secondary education is financial. There is a belief that Indigenous people receive free tuition to university, and Stadelbauer says it is a fallacy many Canadians still believe true.

"As a First Nations woman, it is frustrating to hear that message because I know it is not true. It is my hope that people will take the time to learn accurate histories and talk with Indigenous folks who are willing to take the time to engage in conversation. Understanding how Canada-Indigenous relations got to this point is the key to unlocking solutions to move forward for an overall better society, not just socially but economically, environmentally, and so on," says Stadelbauer.

Listening and learning about the history of Indigenous people and education in Canada showed Raithby how he could make an impact. In December 2023, Raithby donated to the University that will award bursaries to First Nations, Inuit, and Métis students.

"By establishing this award, I would like to contribute to the learning experiences of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students. Waterloo has a lot to offer all students by way of knowledge and skills building, providing problem solving and innovative pathways to addressing needs," says Raithby.

Meeting with Stadelbauer and the Office of Indigenous Relations was an opportunity for Raithby to learn about the financial barriers Indigenous students face and how the University is working towards Indigenization.

"I highly value George and what seems to be his inherent inquisitive, respectful and relational approach to connecting. He was genuine in wanting to understand the needs of students, how he could contribute to the experience of Indigenous students and what our office is all’about, " says Stadelbauer.

Raithby hopes his gift inspires others to ask questions, listen and act toward the mandate of truth and reconciliation. He says that making the decision to financially assist Indigenous students in achieving their academic goals will contribute to their broader goals of giving back to their communities.

"Canada has a lot to learn from Indigenous people and the knowledge they hold-their stewardship of lands and waters, their philosophy of interconnectedness and their relationship to nature. I am optimistic about what Waterloo as an institution is doing to support not only Indigenous students but the overall work of Indigenization. Waterloo is actively working to equip all students with the knowledge of Indigenous histories, knowledge and how to take positive action," says Raithby.