How Ry Moran followed his path back to UVic

Culture

Moran, a member of the Red River Métis, will serve as UVic’s inaugural associate librarian with a focus on reconciliation this fall

Ry Moran UVic
Photo by Nardella Photography via UVic website

Ry Moran was in Nepal when he stumbled upon two questions that he realized he had spent the majority of his young adult life trying to answer. 

“How did we end up with such a heavily unequal world, where you had countries with such great wealth and other countries living in very difficult conditions?” says Moran over the phone two decades later. “And the second question being, what happened to us as Indigenous people?” 

Moran admits that, while he was travelling, he was also still exploring his identity as a Métis person. 

Having grown up in Victoria, Moran left to travel the world following his first year of university at UVic in 1996. He spent the summer on the ocean, working at a fishing lodge in Northern B.C.. He left to travel throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Asia — where he found out more about the world — before eventually returning to UVic where he fell in love with the university and his studies. 

“What I’m certain with life is that I’m not through my adventures yet, and I’ve just been blessed.”

Moran graduated from UVic in 2002 with a degree in political science and history. He will be returning to Vancouver Island this fall, as UVic appointed Moran last month as its inaugural associate librarian with a focus on reconciliation — the first position of its kind in Canada. 

“The [Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s]s calls to action are the foundation for a vision of a better collective future in Canada,”said UVic University Librarian Jonathan Bengtson in a press release. “We are delighted that Ry Moran will take a leadership role in helping to guide us along the path towards truth and reconciliation.” 

The move comes after Moran spent a decade doing work regarding truth and reconciliation in coordination with Elders, residential school survivors, and other keepers of knowledge. He had served as the original director of the National Centre for Truth and Reconciliation (NCTR) since it was formed seven years ago at the University of Manitoba. Prior to that, Moran worked on the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) as Director of Statement Gathering.

“I followed the path that the creator has put in front of me, and it’s taken me many places and along many journeys,” says Moran. 

At the NCTR, Moran helped create a permanent archive for objects collected by the TRC, and gathered over 7 000 audio and video statements of residential school survivors. During his involvement with the TRC and NCTR, Moran also shared experiences with Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation process with around 20 truth commissions around the world — from various countries in Africa to Taiwan. 

On those trips, he says, the team’s goals were to share lessons they learned while recording Indigenous history, how that history influences their work, and ways they overcame barriers. 

“I believe that I’ve served this cause very, very, faithfully, and believe that I put 190 per cent of my being into this work because it’s what it deserves,” says Moran. “It’s not easy work, it’s been a lot of heavy lifting, but that’s what residential school survivors and generations of Indigenous people have deserved — committed teams of people to leave everything out there.” 

While establishing systems to record knowledge and collecting materials for the NCTR, Moran credits efforts by Elders, knowledge keepers, survivors, and archivists to document and honour the history on a path towards reconciliation. 

Moran has always been impressed with UVic’s work in regards to truth and reconciliation, and is excited to build on those dialogues. Although he won’t be physically located at the NCTR, he is  focused on maintaining the relationships he formed at the national centre. 

“The NCTR is a very unique institution in Canada, it’s an institution that has a long road ahead of it and still a great deal of work to do. But has been forging ahead on a very unique and interesting path working directly with knowledge keepers, survivors, and Elders… in trying to realize its mandate and do justice with our goals of truth and reconciliation.” 

As the NCTR is fundamentally an archive and operates on a partnership basis, Moran says there are a lot of natural ways UVic and other universities across Canada can amplify the voices in the archive. 

“That work is a huge part of who I am, and absolutely what I’ll be bringing into this role,” he says. “I hope my arrival on campus will be positive for many people as they try to better understand this overall process of truth and reconciliation.” 

Moran also believes art is a critical form to be used on the road to reconciliation. After he graduated from UVic, he spent a couple years living on Haida Gwaii to give his artistic side some love and wrote his first music album. In 2007, Moran won a Canadian Aboriginal music award, and worked alongside Gord Downie on Secret Path — an album and graphic novel about a 12-year-old boy, Chanie Wenjack, that passed awaywhile trying to escape a residential school. 

At UVic, he cites Dr. Andrea Walsh’s work on repatriating and righting relations with residential school survivors through their own art, and Professor Carey Newman’s Witness Blanket as examples of how the university is reconciling through art. 

“Art is essential for reconciliation because it allows us to speak in different ways, and allows us to convey emotion in very powerful ways that go beyond the written word.” 

From understanding more of the world after his first year at UVic, to living on Haida Gwaii, and relocating to Manitoba to work on the TRC and new national centre, Moran is coming full circle by returning to Victoria this fall — and he wouldn’t change that journey one bit. 

“What I’m certain with life is that I’m not through my adventures yet, and I’ve just been blessed,” he says. “I’ve got to work on so many incredible initiatives, and this work of truth and reconciliation I’ve been gifted with the honour of working through has been life changing. Like I said, it’s not always easy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.”