Ry Moran on Institutional Reconciliation and Equity

Ry Moran, founding director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) at the University of Manitoba, Canada, will become the inaugural Associate University Librarian for Reconciliation at the University of Victoria (UVic), BC, this fall. LJ caught up with him recently to hear more about his plans and thoughts on helping create institutional equity.

Ry Moran standing outside holding ceremonial painted pattern
Ry Moran in Winnipeg, Manitoba, holding one of three reconciliation paddles carved by artist Carey Newman and designed by artists from different generations and nations for the 2019 Building Reconciliation forum.
Photo credit: Nardella Photography

Ry Moran, founding director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) at the University of Manitoba, Canada, will become the inaugural Associate University Librarian for Reconciliation at the University of Victoria (UVic), BC, this fall. Moran, a member of the Red River Métis, grew up in Victoria and graduated from UVic in 2002.

In Part 1 of this interview, Ry Moran on Archiving Truth and Reconciliation Materials and Respecting the Record, Moran described his work archiving the materials gathered by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)—established in 2008 to address the legacy of abuse of Canada’s residential school system, which operated from the 1880s through the end of the 20th century, forcibly separating Indigenous children from their families and forbidding them to acknowledge their heritage and culture or to speak their languages. As a member of UVic Libraries and in collaboration with UVic’s Office of Indigenous Academic and Community Engagement, Moran will work to deepen the university’s commitment to respect and reconciliation, leading the efforts of UVic Libraries to decolonize approaches to the university’s archives and collections, as well as supporting existing initiatives and projects.

LJ caught up with Moran recently to hear more about his plans and thoughts on helping create institutional equity.

LJ : What will your work at the University of Victoria look like, and how do you think it will be different from what you’ve been doing?

Ry Moran: [I’m] going to be exploring how we take all of this wonderful experience and knowledge and apply that to a host of activities across the university library and the campus as a whole. Post-secondary institutions generally have recognized a profound need to make substantive and meaningful changes in not only the way they approach their work, but the way they welcome students, learners, and faculty onto campus. If we’re to create a fully just, equitable, fair, respectful society, we have to not only learn new ways of doing things, but also unlearn some of the ways that are actually quite damaging and negative.

I’ll be bringing [my] experience to support the work occurring within the libraries, presenting a whole range of decolonizing activities, and also looking outward to better support students and faculty in reaching their own goals of decolonization, reconciliation, understanding this complex history, and trying to advance a series of initiatives that [will] bring cultural perspectives in Indigenous ways of knowing and being into the libraries and, more broadly, the campus.

How do you plan to incorporate the university’s existing collections into that work?

I’ll be looking holistically at what exists within the archives and the library itself and exploring ways that we can bring new meaning or new value, new insight, from those collections, by perhaps looking through different lenses.

The inverse will be exploring what we don’t see; what isn’t there. That’s an equally important question, because that’s when we get into similar conversations that we had at the outset of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission—that written word archival records can take us so far, but as we approach understanding from various sources of Indigenous knowledge, we’re also going to have to [look] at how we include those perspectives, knowledge systems, and knowledge into the library as well.

Is this work going to involve outreach into the campus or community?

Working alongside the campus community and surrounding communities is going to be important. The effort of protecting, affirming, and valuing Indigenous knowledge systems can’t be done alone, and can’t be done from a shadowy office somewhere. When we look at the definitions of reconciliation that have been given to us by generations of very strong Indigenous thinkers, we see that reconciliation requires the establishment and maintenance of mutually respectful relationships.

We’ve been having conversations with colleagues at the University of Victoria, thinking about the very powerful role that academic libraries can play within the campus because they are a natural convening place, a natural gathering place, a natural hub that can support a wide range of knowledge-seeking and knowledge-promoting activities by students and faculty. The more we value that centrality and the more we recognize the opportunity that’s created, the more we can start to realize just how important a role archives, libraries, and museums can play in this time of transition and the search for justice.

Do you have any suggestions for anyone, or any institution, beginning to take on this work?

Understanding how systemic racism works, how it operates, how it maintains power, and how it maintains privilege is required knowledge of every single professional in this country right now. There is no institution anywhere that is immune from systemic racism and discrimination. That has to be the starting point of every single conversation that we’re having at every institution.

From there, the nature of how systemic racism operates within whatever sector you operate in needs to be further unpacked. One has both a responsibility and a requirement to not only understand that the broad issues apply, but that there are specific ways that those manifest themselves in various sectors.

Within cultural institutions, it is paramount that a diversity of staff are present, that a diversity of people are empowered, and that all institutions create structures, systems, and opportunities for those conversations that need to be happening—and then work as diligently and as swiftly as possible to dismantle these systems of oppression, discrimination, and racism that continue to persist. We have to understand that everybody is called upon to do that work, and that the dismantling is of incredible importance if we’re ever going to reach our full potential. Otherwise, we’re going to just continue to recreate the same mistakes.

That becomes especially important in terms of archives and libraries right now in questions of social memory: who we are, where we came from, who our historical figures have been, and who they have not been by virtue of being silenced or erased. These are important opportunities for cultural institutions to meaningfully participate in these conversations. When I take a step back and look at the bedrock upon which all of our Truth and Reconciliation Commission activities rested, it primarily rested on the truth aspect—repairing a terribly damaged historical record that had been intentionally created to maintain the systems of power and superiority over certain segments of this society. We have to be extraordinarily aware of the fact that systems of oppression and discrimination are violent and continuing to create harm and pain for huge numbers of people in this world. We’ve got a long way to go before we’ve reached a point where we can truly say that we have achieved those goals.

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Lisa Peet


Lisa Peet is Senior News Editor for Library Journal.

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