On the 23rd of February, the General Election debates for UBC SUO’s Board of Directors 2021 started off with the candidates for the position of President—during which, a question about the role of the recently introduced Indigenous Strategic Plan and the Inclusion Action Plan within the SUO space, was raised. While one of the answers addressed Action 35 in the Indigenous Strategic Plan, which supports the compensation of students and faculty for training, there was reason for concern amongst the student body about the way that the responses were handled.
At the beginning of September last year, the Indigenous Student Council (ISC) wrote an open letter to the Board of Directors (read it for further context here) addressing five big concerns with regard to the SUO’s systemic neglect of the Indigenous students on campus. They were as follows:
- The continuous neglect of the ISC’s status as a resource centre
- The lack of allocation of physical space to the resource centres
- The lack of compensation for labour that the leaders of the ISC have put toward the resource centre in the last year
- The lack of consultation with Indigenous student leaders for the sudden inclusion of a new Indigenous Students’ Representative to SUO President Ali Poostizadeh’s 2020 SUO of UBC Future Plan
- The clear dismissal of the ISC as a legitimate and existing resource centre
This open letter was addressed at the debate of the VP Internal candidates on February 25th, when it became clear that only one out of the five candidates was even aware of the situation. This consistent negligence of the experience of Indigenous students and the systemic issues that they face every single day is starting to become quite tiresome. Multiple candidates at this second night of debates were somehow optimistic about the future of equality at UBCO, seemingly unaware of the SUO’s lack of initiative on this front.
The ISC, in clear detail, laid out six requests in their open letter. In their comment to The Phoenix, they tell us that only two, have been completely acted upon by the SUO. These include being invited to sit on a Resource Centre Advisory Committee to collaborate on restructuring to fit the needs of the community, and an agreement to halt all plans for a 5th resource centre right now. However, they have not guaranteed a dedicated space for the ISC on-campus for a time when it is possible, there have been no efforts to continue with the development of an Indigenous Students’ Representative position since the letter was received, and the people that they were told they could request personal apologies from have already “moved on with their careers and have more pressing goals at this time”. The SUO also has “yet to publicly acknowledge the neglect and wrongdoing against the ISC and Indigenous students on their official social media platforms, aside from a single 24 hour Instagram story, nor is the acknowledgment easily found on their official website”.
The ISC’s Instagram account had been making their followers aware of which candidates at each debate reached out to them prior to the event, on their stories. Amongst both the Presidential and VP Internal candidates, Tashia Kootenayoo (current VP Internal and 2021 candidate for UBC SUO President) was the only one to reach out to the ISC as a resource centre, prior to campaigning. The reason for the emphasis on these positions specifically is because these are the positions that work most closely with clubs, course unions, and resource centres on campus. These were also the candidates who were most open about not having even heard of the letter in some cases, but also the ones that did not do the proper research on the issues the campus is facing currently.
When we asked the ISC whether they feel that the SUO has made substantial progress in addressing the systemic racism that Indigenous students and community members at UBCO face, like the candidates at the VP Internal debates kept reminding everybody multiple times, they told us that there has been “some broad-stroke starts to this work”, but that “there is much still to be done on this journey”. They add, “When it comes to supporting Indigenous students, and Indigenous-focused events on campus, the SUO has continued to throw money rather than true value and support of the work being done. The SUO promotes surface-level anti-racism without deep personal reflection on their contributions to ongoing colonial oppression. We are calling for the SUO to take meaningful steps toward collaborative decolonial practices and Indigenization of their advocacy practices.”
About the future that they hope to see for the interaction between the SUO Board of Directors and not only the ISC, but also other resource centres, they say, “We hope that people running for any position in the SUO, not only those directly involved with the RCs, will broaden their scope of care to include the Indigenous people on this campus. In the future, we hope [that] approaching the RCs and learning about the work we do and what supports and changes we are advocating for is a given when running for the SUO.” As for their advice to current candidates and the future incumbent who will take on their respective roles, it is as follows:
“Please take the time and care to look at our letter and hear our voices in order to have a clearer understanding of what we truly need, in addition to reading the UBC Indigenous Action Plan. It is not the responsibility of Indigenous people to do the work to decolonize oppressive systems ourselves.”