'Make your ancestors proud every day’: Q&A with Office of Indigenous Initiatives Director Tee Duke
As the director of UTM’s new Office of Indigenous Initiatives, Tee Duke is responsible for the administration, co-ordination, development and implementation of Indigenous Initiatives at UTM and overseeing the administration and operations of the Indigenous Centre, including a large focus on the University’s commitments that are outlined in Answering the Call – Wecheehetowin: Final Report of the Steering Committee for the University of Toronto Response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.
Although this is a new role, Duke has been with UTM since 2019, so we asked her about her own experiences on campus and her goals for the new office:
Q: What do you enjoy most about being at UTM?
I really enjoy the strong community connection at UTM. It feels like one big family here – everyone is always willing to collaborate, partner and support. I am truly grateful for this work and UTM community.
Q: If you could give advice to yourself when you were a university student, what would you say?
Strive to be the person you need and make your ancestors proud every day.
Q: How would access to the kind of initiatives OII-UTM is offering have affected you growing up?
This is a great question! If I had access to OII-UTM while I was navigating post-secondary, I feel confident that I wouldn’t have struggled as much. Not only was I a first-time post-secondary student but I was a first time Indigenous post-secondary student. Being away from my home and community was very difficult. I was constantly looking for a sense of belonging in an institution where I couldn’t see myself. Indigenous presence and community is absolutely imperative for Indigenous students in terms of retention when accessing education.
Q: What do you like to do outside of work?
I am a social butterfly at heart. I love my community and I try to support as much as I can through volunteering, attending and supporting events. I also have a slight obsession with supporting Indigenous business. My favourite Indigenous fashion designers are Lauren Good Day, Osamuskwasis and Lesley Hampton (who is also a UTM Indigenous alumna). Please check them out on their websites.
Q: What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I am always open to trying and experiencing news things, learning new skills – always! At least once. From skydiving, moose hunting, auditioning for large productions including The Twilight saga’s New Moon movie, being a karaoke champion to dancing on the world stage at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics – the list goes on.
Q: What are some of the ways the OII-UTM will connect with the university community?
We are huge collaborators and want to partner as much as possible, which allows us to build and maintain new and positive reciprocal relationships with the UTM broader community. And this always doesn’t have to be in a professional setting – going for walks, sharing a meal together or going out for tea or coffee, visiting us at the UTM Indigenous Centre Gathering space, etc.
Q: How can the UTM community support your vision?
We strongly encourage the UTM community to immerse themselves in the Answering the Call – Wecheehetowin: Report and moving beyond the land acknowledgement.
The road to reconciliation will be a long journey for all of us and in some ways, we may still need to sit with truth a little longer. This can take shape in various ways – relationship building, attending our events and activities, volunteering, participating in Indigenous cultural competency trainings, inviting us as guest lectures or sharing your Indigenous initiatives and requesting our support/guidance to help mobilize them – and so much more.
Q: What message do you want to send out to members of the UTM community?
Please engage and connect with us! We are here for you! We work to promote equity and inclusion of Indigenous people among students, staff, faculty and librarians and throughout the campus. Follow us on Instagram, check out our website and lookout for more details on UTM’s Inaugural Powwow in March 2023. Lastly, it is important to note that all students, staff, faculty and librarians are welcome to attend all programs and events associated with the Indigenous Centre, whether they are of Indigenous ancestry or not.
Responses have been edited for length and clarity.