Vice-provost declines to support Indigenous students in referendum of separation

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Indigenization was the topic of the day at the March 7 University Students’ Council meeting. The council and their guests discussed the future of Indigenization at the university, the possibility of allocating more resources to the Indigenous Students’ Council and the viability of forming an Indigenous students’ union.

The meeting began with an address by David Pratt, second vice-chief of the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations, who highlighted steps towards Indigenization in the University of Saskatchewan’s history. Pratt says members of council have the responsibility to carry that legacy forward.

“I want to encourage the vice-provost, Caroline Cottrell and all of the student council to continue to support Indigenous student voices,” Pratt said. “Be the leaders, and show the other members of the U15 what we can do when we empower our most marginalized people. There are challenges in this province with racism. Your job as student leaders is to counter it.”

Pratt says that a tangible way to show support to Indigenous students is by increasing the budget of the ISC to reflect their contributions to recruitment and retention as a way to compromise in the ongoing effort from the ISC to obtain union status and separate from the USSU.

“Anything that empowers Indigenous student voices is always important, but I don’t agree with not engaging with the administration or the [USSU] Indigenous Student Affairs Committee,” Pratt said. “I understand [the ISC’s] opinion in terms of them wanting resources and capacity, and I think that could be easily achieved if you set aside a budget for them. You could come to a compromise where you are giving them some extra resources.”

After Pratt’s address, Jacqueline Ottmann, vice-provost Indigenous engagement, took the floor. Ottmann is currently drafting an Indigenous strategy for the university and met with 20 Elders and knowledge keepers before the meeting to get their input on the project. Indigenous staff and graduate students have also been part of the consultation process for the strategy. All that is left, Ottmann says, is to survey undergraduate students.

Regarding the possibility of an Indigenous students’ union, Ottmann says that the university administration cannot get involved in the matter aside from offering information to the ISC on different models of governance.

“We are here, we will listen, and we will support, but we can’t help you govern. The student union governs itself,” Ottmann said. “Getting union status has to happen from the grassroots, and the decision making has to happen [at the USC]. We can provide information, but we can’t get involved.”

Regan Ratt-Misponas, Indigenous Students’ Council president, asked Ottmann for a commitment from the office of the vice-provost of Indigenous engagement to support the decision of Indigenous students if an ISC referendum were to occur. The purpose of this referendum would be to ask Indigenous students whether or not they would like for their USSU student fees to be rerouted into the formation of an Indigenous students’ union.

Ratt-Misponas felt this commitment would be in accordance with the university’s support of Indigenous self-governance. Ottmann says they cannot make that promise as it would mean getting involved in student governance.

“A referendum would be required for the whole student body. It’s difficult for me to make a commitment when this is really a student challenge,” Ottmann said. “We can’t influence the governance of our unions.”

After Ottmann left the meeting, council briefly discussed some other business. This year’s USSU budget has been drafted and is accessible to all students in preparation for the budget presentation at the March 14 USC meeting. The Student Wellness Centre will also be testing extended hours for the next four Thursdays to inform their schedule for next year.

Ana Cristina Camacho / Staff Writer