President's Council on Truth and Reconciliation


Education is what got us into this mess — and education will get us out – the use of education at least in terms of residential schools — is the key to reconciliation.
-Senator Murray Sinclair


In 2016, as the 1st Indigenous Chair on Truth and Reconciliation (CTR) Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux was given the lead on the establishment of a Presidential Council on Truth and Reconciliation (PCTR) at Lakehead University. The CTR and this Council has worked together to provide education on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s 94 Calls to Action for our governing bodies, faculty, staff and administration. The PCTR has developed a series of teaching modules and webinars that directly address several calls to action and encourage the entire diversity of the Lakehead academic community to participate.

The President’s Council on Truth and Reconciliation (PCTR) is responsible for working with the President and the Chair on Truth and Reconciliation (CTR) to fully implement relevant or specifically chosen Calls for Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report tabled in December 2015 and the Universities Canada Presidents Principles. 

The CTR reports directly to the President’s Office through direct reports and written Council updates. This ensures everything we have achieved as a council is in alignment with the President’s goals for Lakehead University and constitutes the fulfillment of Lakehead’s strategic plan on reconciliation. The CTR believes reconciliation is a collaborative process and that it should be fully integrated with the vision of the Board, the Senate, the Ogimaawin-Indigenous Governance Council, faculty, staff, students and administration so Lakehead builds and implements a fully immersive approach to reconciliation.

The PCTR also supports the implementation of project specific proposals across North Western Ontario such as maintaining positive and productive political and educational exchanges with the northern chiefs, the Municipal government of Thunder Bay, and the governments of Ontario and Canada. In addition, maintaining positive and productive relationships with the chiefs and communities of Simcoe County are also of paramount importance in the work of the Chair and the President’s Council’s work towards Truth and Reconciliation in Canada.

The Chair on Truth and Reconciliation continues to liaise as requested with the Board of Governors and Senate to ensure they are kept apprised of implementation activities and can ensure relevant TRC Calls to Action are being addressed and implemented according to Lakehead’s larger strategic and academic plans.

Council Members

Dr. Moira McPherson, President of Lakehead University

Headshot of Moira McPhersonDr. Moira McPherson became Lakehead University’s eighth President & Vice-Chancellor on September 1, 2018, after serving as Interim President & Vice-Chancellor between January 2018 and September 2018. Prior to that, she served as the institution’s Provost & Vice-President (Academic) since 2012, where she provided strategic leadership for institutional visioning for academic and community connections, international recruitment and partnerships, as well as program development, accreditations, and resource allocations.

Dr. McPherson began her progressive career at Lakehead University in 1987 as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Physical Education and Athletics. After seven successful years as Director of the School of Kinesiology where she established a strong reputation as a dynamic applied scientist and coach facilitator, Dr. McPherson’s effective collaborative leadership approach led her to being named Associate Vice-President (Academic), a position that saw her design and implement some pivotal new academic processes to achieve the University’s academic goals. After stepping in to serve as Acting Vice-President (Academic) in 2010, she was appointed Deputy Provost in 2011, and subsequently appointed as Provost & Vice-President (Academic) in 2013.

Dr. McPherson’s understanding of, and commitment to, Lakehead University continues to be demonstrated through her capacity for strategic leadership, a purposeful dedication to students, and her influence on several high impact projects. These projects include the Lakehead University-Georgian College Partnership, a collaboration that is designed to meet the needs of students and employers in Simcoe County; the Gichi Kendaasiwin Centre, a capital project to support a vibrant Indigenous student, faculty and staff presence and foster greater connections with communities; and Lakehead’s immersive technology initiative, Lakehead’s distance delivery experiences designed to connect learners in rural and remote communities, and now around the world.

Dr. McPherson led the development and implementation of Lakehead University’s 2012-2017 Academic Plan, the University’s transition to the Institutional Quality Assurance process, and to a Strategic Enrolment Management Framework. She has led the development of the University’s Strategic Mandate Agreements, and established and maintains oversight on the implementation of the Integrated Planning and Budgeting Process. Her leadership continues to ensure the University’s strategic priorities are embraced and realized through its Strategic and Academic Plans.

Dr. McPherson served two terms on the Ontario Universities Council on Quality Assurance, was a member of the Executive Committee for the Ontario Council of Academic Vice-Presidents, and served as the Chair of the Board of Directors for the Northern Ontario School of Medicine (NOSM). She currently serves on the Council of Ontario Universities’ Executive Heads Committee, Universities Canada’s University Women’s Leadership Advisory Group and its International Subcommittee, and is the Vice-Chair of NOSM’s Board of Directors. Dr. McPherson’s active involvement in foundations and other organizations includes her work with The McConnell Foundation’s Initiative on Regional Reconciliation and the Northern Ontario Health Innovation Cluster.

Dr. McPherson holds a PhD specializing in Applied Biomechanics from the University of Alberta, and has been regularly sought out for her scholarly and professional expertise in applied kinematic and biomechanical skill analyses by both national and international organizations.

Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux, Chair on Truth and Reconciliation, Orillia
Headshot of Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux

Dr. Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux served as Vice Provost for Indigenous Initiatives at Lakehead University for three years. Effective September2016 she was appointed as the 1st Indigenous Chair for Truth and Reconciliation in Canada for Lakehead University and she continues to develop pathways forward to reconciliation across Canada. Cynthia is responsible for the development and implementation of the President’s Council for the Truth and Reconciliation and the eight modules that have been designed to engage the staff, faculty and administration of the Lakehead community.

Cynthia was the inaugural Nexen Chair for Indigenous Leadership at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity and remains a faculty member in the Indigenous Learning program. She is a board member for the Teach for Canada non-profit which addresses the needs of Indigenous schools in Northern Ontario. Cynthia was inducted as a “Honourary Witness” by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada in 2014, and is the Chair of the Governing Circle for the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation at the University of Manitoba.

She is a member and resident of the Chippewa of Georgina Island First Nation in Ontario and has dedicated her life to building bridges of understanding between peoples. She sees endless merit in bringing people from diverse cultures, ages, and backgrounds together to engage in practical dialogue and applied research initiatives. She is deeply committed to public education and active youth engagement from all cultures and backgrounds. 

Cynthia co-founded a youth project out of the University of Toronto, the University of Saskatchewan and Lakehead University. Information on the Canadian Roots Exchange (CRE) can be found at:

Dr. Rita Shelton Deverell, Adjunct Professor, Education, Theatre & Media Artist, Orillia

Headshot of Rita Shelton DeverellDr Rita Shelton Deverell, EdD OISE/UT, dissertation on Arts Policy, is a theatre and media artist. She is a co-founder of Vision TV, former News Director at APTN where she mentored her Indigenous successor, and a Member of the Order of Canada. In 2019 Deverell’s book American Refugees: Turning to Canada for Freedom was published by University of Regina Press and her play Who You Callin Black Eh? garnered two Ontario Arts Council Theatre Recommender Grants. She is a Trustee of the Royal Ontario Museum, makes her home near the   Orilllia campus, and in 2017 was gratified to receive an Honorary Doctorate from Lakehead.

Dr. Sonja Grover, Professor, Faculty of Education, Thunder Bay

Headshot of Sonja GroverDr. Sonja Grover graduated in 1976 from O.I.S.E./University of Toronto with a PhD in Applied Psychology and has taught and conducted research at several Canadian Universities. In addition she has worked as a psychologist in applied clinical settings in Canada and New Zealand.  Dr. Grover is a Full Professor with Lakehead University who joined the Faculty of Education in 2001 and was named Lakehead University (SSHRC area) 2012 Distinguished Researcher in recognition of excellence in research.  She is an Associate Editor of the International Journal of Human Rights. Since joining Lakehead, DR. Grover has published extensively in the field of international law including peer reviewed law articles and to date fourteen single authored books with major international academic law publishers. Her work has focused primarily on accountability for international atrocity crimes committed against children.

Kaitlyn Watson, Instructor, Faculty of Education, Orillia

Headshot of Kaitlyn WatsonDr. Kaitlyn Watson has dedicated her research, teaching, and community engagement to Indigenous/non-Indigenous relations as a settler Canadian. She recently completed her doctorate in Western University’s Faculty of Education in which her dissertation research investigated how educators and community members understand and actualize reconciliation in their personal and professional lives. Completing her Master of Arts at Trent University in Canadian Studies and Indigenous Studies, and undergraduate degree at Lakehead University in Interdisciplinary Studies, Kaitlyn has explored Indigenous-colonizer issues from historical, geographic, and literary dimensions. Kaitlyn also has a Bachelor of Education with teachable subjects in English and Geography from Lakehead University. While Kaitlyn has learned immensely from her academic studies, community-based education is where she has learned most deeply about Indigenous peoples and perspectives.

Dr. Sandra Jeppesen, Professor, Media, Film, and Communications, Orillia

Headshot of Sandra JeppesenSandra Jeppesen researches and is an activist in autonomous media and social movements from an intersectional feminist, queer, trans, anti-racist, anti-capitalist & decolonizing perspective. Co-founder of the Media Action Research Group (MARG), she is Professor in Media, Film, and Communications at Lakehead University Orillia, where she held the Lakehead University Research Chair in Transformative Media and Social Movements (2016-2019).

Dr. Gary Pluim, Assistant Professor, Faculty of Education, Orillia

Headshot of Gary PluimGary Pluim, PhD is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Education, Orillia. His academic work focuses on educational programming and pedagogies in diverse, international, and intercultural contexts. His publications have addressed intersections, opportunities, and tensions between critical global citizenship education, and education that is place-based, reflexive, and intensely local. Gary is originally from Ottawa, but he and his family now live on Treaty 16 territory in Simcoe County. Before coming to Lakehead, Gary was a teacher in Tuktoyaktuk, NWT and a community development worker in several Indigenous communities in South America. His teaching at Lakehead has included courses in social difference, human rights, and a travelling, experiential course on the histories of Indigenous and Settler relations in Simcoe County, one that will now be offered as a place-based education course in the Faculty of Education.

Denise Baxter, PhD Candidate and Vice Provost Indigenous Initiatives, Thunder Bay

Headshot of Denise BaxterLakehead University has named Denise Baxter as its new Vice-Provost, Indigenous Initiatives effective October 30, 2017. Denise previously held the position of the Principal of Adult and Continuing Education at Lakehead District School Board. She is completing her PhD in Equity and Indigenous Education at York University. As an established education leader, Denise has worked in multiple contexts including public school boards, Ministry of Education, Lakehead University and First Nations private schools. Within each of these contexts, she has built capacity and partnerships with multiple community stakeholders. Her work with the community has involved education conferences, workshop presentations, and capacity building with educators in First Nations schools.

Denise’s current doctoral research and professional writing support her educational experiences and are focused on decolonizing educational systems. She is a Marten Falls First Nation member, and maintains that preserving and practicing cultural traditions and ceremony keeps her connected to the community, Aboriginal cultures, traditions, and protocol. All of this has allowed her to establish networks, strengthen relationships with Indigenous communities and governments, as well as, build capacity between First Nations and public and private partners. This includes partnerships that have supported multiple initiatives that advance educational outcomes for Aboriginal students.

Additionally, her cultural competency allowed her to serve as co-chair of the Ministry of Education, Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat's First Nations, Metis and Inuit Provincial Committee. Her extensive educational experience has included opportunities to lead and teach across multiple educational environments including public schools K-12, First Nations schools and First Nations Private Schools, and the university. As a public-school educator and leader, she has had the opportunity to work within high-need inner-city schools, French Immersion Schools, and adult and continuing education. Denise has been recognized for achieving the highest provincial assessment scores in the school board in a significantly marginalized community school, building a collaborative inquiry project between English and French Immersion students and teachers in conjunction with Lakehead University, as well as, fostering a collaborative inquiry within Adult and Continuing Education to decolonize our learning environment. Her work with First Nations schools has included building capacity with leaders and teachers, supporting school improvement, as well as, opening Matawa Learning Centre Private Secondary School.

As a part of the Paul Martin Initiative, Denise had the opportunity to be a mentor in two First Nations communities in Southwestern Ontario. Through her mentorship, the communities achieved well above the provincial standard of 75% in the EQAO provincial assessment. Her recent experience with Adult and Continuing Education has required her to manage a budget in excess of one million dollars that is solely grant and community partner funded. These community partnerships are built and maintained on her own, as the Adult and Continuing Education Principal. These efforts have led to opening four new sites this year and an expansion of 600K annually. Most recently, she developed and co-instructed Lakehead University's Principal Qualification Program Part I and II. Denise’s masters work focused on building relationships with Indigenous parents and caregivers as a critical entry point for Indigenous families into the public school system. This research led to the creation of Aboriginal Presence In our Schools – A Cultural Resource for Staff which was adopted and adapted by several public and Catholic school boards across the province.

Jerri-Lynn Orr, Indigenous Curriculum Specialist, Thunder Bay

Headshot of Jerri-Lynn OrrJerri-Lynn is the Indigenous Curriculum Specialist at Lakehead University. She is Cree/Metis and originally from Winnipeg, where she received her Aboriginal Languages (Diploma)/Bachelor of Arts (Geography)/Bachelor of Education through a joint program with the University of Winnipeg and Red River College, and most recently, a Master of Education in Education for Change: Specialization in Indigenous Education from Lakehead University. 

She has worked at Lakehead University for 7 years and comes to this position from the Office of Indigenous Initiatives as the former Indigenous Transition Year Program coordinator. She has extensive experience in curriculum development focused on Indigenous Ways of Knowing and being, and has taught in high school, adult education, and post-secondary and has had the opportunity of facilitating many workshops inside and outside the university community.     

Her research interests include Indigenous education, Access programs for Indigenous students and Indigenous research approaches.

Robin Sutherland, Director of Indigenous Relations, Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Thunder Bay

Headshot of Robin SutherlandRobin Sutherland, a Mushkego Innino (Swampy Cree) and proud member of Fort Albany First Nation (FAFN), obtained his B.A./B.Ed. (English and History) from Lakehead University and went on to become a Secondary School Teacher in his home community (FAFN).  After moving back to Thunder Bay in 2016, he returned to Lakehead in the capacity of Aboriginal Transitions Advisor, assisting the Lakehead University Indigenous community with recruitment, retention, program development, and outreach.  Together, these experiences have helped Robin in his role as the Director of Indigenous Relations for the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law since 2018.  As part of his portfolio at the law school, Robin facilitates the mandatory first-year Indigenous Perspectives course.  In addition to spending time on the land when he can, Robin enjoys supporting students, especially Indigenous students, in realizing their potential and achieving their goals.

Allysha Wassegijig, Indigenous Initiatives Coordinator, Orillia (presently on maternity leave)

Headshot of Allysha WassegijigAllysha Wassegijig, Indigenous Initiatives Coordinator brings over 8 years of experience working in post-secondary student services. A proud Odawa from Wiikwemkoong, Allysha is passionate about learning Anishnaabemowin and supporting others who work to preserve Indigenous languages around the world. Allysha has gathered traditional knowledge through helping with family and community ceremonies, as well as attending teachings with respected elders. Allysha's academic background is in Kinesiology and Health Promotion with research in a holistic approach to healthy living centred on the family unit. She aspires to connect her volunteer work with multiple organizations across Simcoe-Muskoka region to address major themes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action: education, language and culture, health and justice, and child welfare.

Mercedes Jacko, Indigenous Initiatives Coordinator, Orillia

Mercedes Jacko

Mercedes Jacko (she/they) is Bear Clan and her family is from Birch Island in Whitefish River First Nation. She is proudly both First Nation Ojibwe and Canadian with an urban Indigenous perspective. Mercedes has been working in postsecondary student services since 2015, and is currently the Indigenous Initiatives Coordinator at Lakehead University’s Orillia Campus. 


Mercedes is passionate about advocacy of Indigenous peoples and 2SLGBTQ+ communities. Her academic background is in Psychology and Women Studies and has gathered traditional knowledge through traditional teachings with Elders and community ceremonies. Mercedes aspires to utilize her knowledge while embedding the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada's Calls to Action, along with the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2SLGBTQ+ communities (MMIWG2S)’s Calls to Justice, in her work in the Simcoe County region.


Truth and Reconciliation Modules

Lakehead University will be hosting and celebrating intercultural conversations through a series of eight modules designed by members of the President’s Council on Truth and Reconciliation (PCTR). Cynthia Wesley-Esquimaux and the Council members have pulled together a series of sessions that will be offered on line to ensure all members of the Lakehead community have an opportunity to participate.

Faculty and staff will be offered a completion certificate to add to their teaching dossiers and resumes.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a Lakehead specific “reconciliation through education” model. With every person from the Board of Governors, through Senate, the student body, staff, faculty, and guests working together on a reconciliation process that weaves together the diversity of cultures, colours, languages, knowledge bases, and art across our institution. Together we can demonstrate that there is no room for separation when it comes to reconciliation, and that each of us can be involved as Canadians, whether we are Indigenous or non-Indigenous.

Module One: Exploring worldviews and creation stories: what do stories represent and how will learning about them inform our academic community?

Everyone in the world has a worldview and an oral or written library of creation stories. Sadly, most creation stories are not taught to children anymore, but they are still there and they still have meaning. This opening webinar will offer an exploration of how diverse worldviews continue to inform our perceptions of each other. We will begin the conversation by our thoughts on how worldviews are developed and influences and how creation stories from around the world resonate in our unconscious. We call up the trickster figures from Indigenous cultures and discuss how they continue to teach and challenge Indigenous people to be inclusive and respectful of the world around us.

Module Two: What has History got to do with it? – Where does history begin and why does the history we learn and teach in our academic institutions matter?

There is a saying in the Indigenous world that says “you have to look backward to go forward” and this is often expressed as “Looking seven generations back and seven generations forward” because there is a firm belief that where we have come from can deeply inform where we are, and more particularly, where we are going. If we do not bother to understand what the “wise practices” of our ancestors are and how they continue to have utility today, we will not fully appreciate what we need to learn and teach to build a better tomorrow. This discussion examines Indigenous history in Canada and asks how the Indigenous story might reflect the story of other cultures who have experienced various forms of trauma. Why

Module Three: Intro to intercultural literature and content – what can “reading around the world” teach us about each other?

As an academic community, Lakehead University has a plethora of literature and course materials to challenge and inform our students. Our second module opens a window on Indigenous literature and asks our entire learning community to look into their own cultural backgrounds and bring their literature and cultural stories to this discussion. Intercultural literatures ask us to explore stories, books, and communications from around the world because they can offer us deep insights into the biases and beliefs that sometimes get in the way of forming mutual understandings and “right relations”.

Module Four: Addressing systemic racism, biases and beliefs – where does problematic social thinking and relating come from, how do we recognize when negative stereotypes are coming forward in our words and actions so we can own them and move them out of our way?

Our goal is to open a discussion based on what we have already explored in Modules One through Three. Our intention is to host what we believe might be a difficult discussion on the what’s and why’s of exclusion, inclusion, and fostering humane economics. Why does ownership and allocation of resources matter so much in contemporary society. Hopefully, participants will bring some strong opinions into the circle and challenge everyone to dig deep and relate! 

Will people in our academic community bring insight into the kinds of relationship building necessary to support local, regional and national reconciliation? Where do stereotypes come from? What is the difference between implicit and

Module Five: Beyond Indian Residential schools – now that Canadians are more aware of Indian Residential Schools and the impact on the Indigenous community of Canada, what are the next steps for Canada?

The historic progression and impact of government decisions that laid the foundation for Indian Residential School, Labour Schools, and Training Institutes for Indigenous peoples has been a very recent topic across Canada. There have been other histories in other cultures that have created similar negative results and we want to invite a discussion that will foster a sense of compassion for those who have suffered and demonstrated powerful resiliency. This conversation is not being held to rehash the hurt, but to prompt an open discussion on where do we go from here? We know there has been harm, now what do we do as a community to ensure our steps forward are positive, inclusive and healing?

Module Six: The history and impacts of child welfare, 60’s scoop, millennial scoop, and what about all those children in care today?

The Children’s Aid Society has posted an apology that acknowledges and expresses understanding of the impact and meaning of cultural genocide to the Indigenous community. Intergenerational trauma and cultural loss has been inflicted on the Indigenous peoples of Ontario, and Canada for 7 generations. There continues to be a extreme shortage of Indigenous culture-based services for children and families, and there continues to be resistance to Indigenous self-determination with respect to the care of Indigenous children and families. As a country we need an intense dialogue on the restoration of jurisdiction and authority to Indigenous peoples for their children.

“These are historic and current day injustices for which we, as Ontario’s non-Indigenous Children’s Aid Societies, must take responsibility. These are difficult truths, but they are truths we must speak in order to begin the journey towards healing, change, and reconciliation. It is time that we do more than offer words.

Today we commit to Indigenous communities that we will continue to seek and implement your guidance as we undertake active measures to ensure that we are serving Indigenous children and families in a manner that empowers children, families, and communities.”

This module lays out a fascinating story which impacts Indigenous communities across Canada, and has affected an incredible number of children of colour. What was the impetus behind CAS decisions that took so many children out of their homes and fostered such harmful policy and practice, and why does it continued today?

Module Seven: Ethics, protocols, and research in our communities – what is OCAP?

How were the Ownership, Control, Access and Possession principles developed within the Indigenous community? Who were the scholars who pulled these principles together and why should researchers respect them in research and data collection with every Indigenous community – and what about your community? When research happens in a cultural community, what protections should be in place, and what benefits must accrue to the people being researched? What about the USAI Research protocol developed by the Ontario Federation of Indigenous Friendship Centres? Utility, Self-Voicing, Access and Inter-Relationality Research Framework which has been developed to guide the connections and relationship building essential to doing research with any cultural group. 

Module Eight: International Protocols, National Studies and the Truth. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and the TRC - 94 Calls to Action – how do they fit into this conversation and how might they effectively include all of Canadian society?

Module Eight opens the conversation with an examination of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples (RCAP) and the 94 Calls to Action put forward by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. We will include other pieces of legislation, studies, and commissions that have asked for the truth. Canada has not been able to provide satisfactory answers, and other cultures in Canada have similar questions. This module has been designed to prompt an inclusive and important dialogue on how we can address, undo, and implement policies and practices that will ensure respect for equity, inclusion, and a celebration of diversity. and the principles -

And Ontario’s contribution to the conversation -

Lakehead University has made a commitment to reconciliation, and we hope you will join us in the Q & A sessions to ask questions, embrace the difficult questions, challenge the discussions, and work together with your colleagues to create a new story, one that celebrates our cultural differences, challenges our biases and beliefs, and is a model of reconciliation for all of Canada.