Talking non-participation: Why Indigenous students and groups are right to withdraw

By in Opinions
The Gordon Oakes Red Bear Student Centre has been a space for discourse.

An important conversation is underway at the University of Saskatchewan, as Indigenous student leaders raise active critique about the institution’s leaders and administration, and everyone should listen up.

Following the Indigenous Students’ Council’s call to action on Feb. 28, and subsequent statements of support from the Saskatoon Urban Native Teacher Education Program and the Indigenous Graduate Students’ Council, it is apparent that efforts toward Indigenization and reconciliation at the U of S have so far failed in the eyes of the Indigenous student body.

In their ask, the ISC called for the creation of an autonomous Indigenous Students’ Union at the U of S and suggested a collective act of withdrawal, asking all Indigenous students to pull out of all conversations concerning Indigenization and reconciliation both at the U of S and throughout all post-secondary institutions.

This action should not be misunderstood as non-cooperation — it is on settlers, now, to reflect on the implications of the call to action, assess wrongs, think critically about programs and initiatives, and find ways to a solution. It is not the responsibility of Indigenous students or leaders to explain or solve the problem.

The institutional structures that govern, operate and administrate nearly all aspects of our current society do actively work against the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples. At a press conference held by members of the ISC on March 6, student Monica Iron from Canoe Lake First Nation explained that many Indigenous students have been frustrated that efforts toward Indigenization and reconciliation at the U of S that have not represented the entire Indigenous student body.

“We’re added to boards after the boards are made, when we should be [there] at the formation… Instead of as individual students, we should be approached as a group — currently, they just kind of pick us one by one,” Iron said.

Iloradanon Efimoff, a graduate student of Haida and European descent in applied social psychology, explains that discourse has been difficult so far, because Indigenous students are not afforded equal resources as part of the conversation and suggests that a way forward is a re-evaluation of governing processes.

“All of our students have the right to participate in these conversations, and that’s coming from a different structure — that’s coming from the capacity for us to organize across campus as an Indigenous Students’ Union not as disparate clubs, constituency groups and councils that are situated across campus and unable to connect and communicate in a meaningful way,” Efimoff said.

It is important that I situate myself as a first-generation white settler living and working on Treaty 6 Territory and the homeland of the Métis. My voice — while given the privilege of this platform — is insignificant in the place of emotion or lived experience, and I recognize that I cannot fully understand the weight of this monumental conversation that is being carried by so many around me.

This very publication, in fact, has acted as a tool of colonial power with its influence over the information shared in the campus sphere. Newspapers like this one tell stories but often fail to balance them, and there is still much to learn and unlearn in newsrooms.

As long as these systems don’t support them, yes, Indigenous students have every right to withdraw their input from reconciliation and Indigenization efforts. They have this right, because they do not owe us this consult. They do not owe us their time. Our settler strategies toward Indigenization and reconciliation often demand emotional labour. Remember, these conversations have different meanings when we approach them from a place of privilege.

In the days and decisions to come, keep in mind that settlers have a responsibility to pursue understanding independently, to own up to past and present mistakes and to listen well to what is being said around us. To put it plainly, it’s not the job of Indigenous students to explain what’s wrong with these systems. They have every right to withhold their consult, because we often take advantage of it.

Emily Migchels / Opinions Editor

Photo: Caitlin Taylor