Indigenous Issues and Truth and Reconcilliation

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    • #193918
      Darcie Lynn Fleming

      Indigenous concerns are front page in the news with calls to action, self-governance, residential schools, murdered and missing indigenous women and acknowledgement of land rights. How could AUSU incorporate Truth and Reconciliation and other indigenous issues within the organization?

    • #193919
      Darcie Lynn Fleming

      As a Métis student and former Executive Director of the Métis Nation of Alberta Local #2003, I have a personal understanding of the challenges and barriers that indigenous persons encounter. These not only include the lack of parity in education, difficulties in funding access, but more importantly, the lack of understanding of the cultures of the indigenous population.
      I think it is important for AUSU to be a leader and take effective action in the spirit of Truth and Reconciliation. AUSU has adopted a land acknowledgement statement, but I think we could improve our response. Actions can be small such as incorporating indigenous art, a symbolic effigy of a red dress for murdered and missing indigenous women or more impactful by the appointment of an indigenous student to the student advisory committee. I would also like to see the development of an indigenous student focus group to discuss and bring forward issues and propose ways of how AUSU could support and effectively address those concerns from an indigenous perspective.
      An important element towards understanding indigenous culture is a blanket ceremony. A blanket ceremony is an interactive exercise that teaches participants the effect of colonialism on the indigenous population. This ceremony is often the first step for non-indigenous persons to understand the effects of colonization on our people. I would put forth the adoption of a blanket ceremony for councillors at the council retreat
      AU has made advances towards truth and reconciliation and has developed a conciliation journey program in the Faculty of Health Disciplines and has established a working group. I would suggest that AUSU have a representative on this conciliation working group. I would also advocate for AU to develop more degree programs with indigenous content and focus. Currently, the only degree program for indigenous studies is the Bachelor of Management in Indigenous Nations and Organizations.
      AU is positioned to be a leader in Indigenous Studies not only by location with a high indigenous population but also the online format. Many indigenous students are unable to afford to move to a city to attend university. As well, it is not only a monetary challenge but also a cultural adjustment. If indigenous students can remain in their communities, it can improve their success rates. AUSU can advocate for AU to address the under-representation of the indigenous population and lack of initiatives to attract those students.

    • #193920

      Darcie this is very important for so many reasons, my experience is limited to workshops and readings, while you can relate to the challenges better than anyone. Canada has done so much for me, but as a first-generation Canadian I am disappointed with how little gets done for First Nation communities. While today’s elected officials are not responsible for the actions of the past, they are responsible for the inaction and inability to resolve today’s long-standing wrongs.

      Not only should AU look to create more First Nation courses, I believe that every degree should require each student to take at least one course that deals with First Nation culture/history. Many people only have a superficial understanding of First Nations cultures and history. I do not believe any university has taken this step, but I know that Athabasca University can create a positive ripple effect by being the first.

      Regarding the challenges First Nation youth face, I participated in a seminar that focused on the social determinants of health and specifically focused on early childhood development. There are so many challenges these youth face, exponentially decreasing there odds of ever making it post-secondary learning institutions, and that is something I hope the two of us get the opportunity to advocate for at the Provincial and Federal level. I may be wrong but I believe that Canada-wide tuition costs are covered for learners of First Nation heritage, so maybe we could look to create a scholarship/etc specific for First Nation learners to be able to buy a laptop/etc (I will touch on this in your additional scholarship question).

      I look forward to seeing you continue to champion these issues and learning more from you on these matters.

    • #193927
      Natasha Donahue

      Thank you for this question, Darcie.

      I am also Métis and Indigenous issues are so close to my heart. There are a number of angles I believe AUSU can take to implement the Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) calls to action as well as the United Nations Declaration for the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP) articles, which Canada is a signatory on and which will most likely be presented as a government bill at the federal level for official adoption by the Government of Canada.

      I believe that Indigenous people should be part of decision-making bodies, but also in executory roles. Indigenous students should be able to have their own space that they create in order to address the unique needs of a population which has suffered under colonization for 500 years. We need an Indigenous student advisory role or suite of roles to encourage a sense of community and self-governance within the AU environment.

      As an organization, AUSU can also incorporate Indigenous governance structures into daily operations, and these governance systems can be adopted by the organization as well. We can also work toward a decolonized work environment overall, where individuals as well as the organization as a whole must reflect on what that means to them specifically.

      Indigenous scholarships, awards, and bursaries are another avenue to approach this issue. Financial barriers, while not the only barrier to post-secondary, can be a huge deterrent for Indigenous Peoples to enter into the world of higher education. Aside from the financial burden, these spaces are also quite often very colonial and lack cultural relevance, so AUSU should also continue to push the institution to do better and to take on their Indigenization strategy in a holistic, respectful, and sustainable way. This should include the voices of Indigenous students.

      At the federal level, which is where so much of the responsibility of reconciliation lays, we can continue to push the government to acknowledge and make movement on Indigenous issues as they relate to post-secondary. AUSU has proudly been able to send myself as an Indigenous representative to sit on the Indigenous Student Advisory Committee, which we formed within the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA) over the ’19/20 academic year, which has directly influenced CASA to bring forward the topic of UNDRIP during our annual Advocacy Week. We must build a sustainable pathway for AUSU to continue to bring our Indigenous students’ voices to the federal level.

      There is so much more to this issue than what I’ve written here, but this topic requires frank and open conversation and education. I was able to draft an AUSU position policy discussing Indigenous student needs and how we can help to support these students, such as through culture shifts created by mandatory Indigenous studies courses, but this is just the beginning of a journey we must all embark on together.

    • #193929
      Natalia Iwanek

      Thank you for the question!

      As an immigrant to this country, I have followed developments over the years and have always felt uneasy about Canadian history, especially when viewed from a decolonized lens. However, as a Canadian citizen, I am now part of this system and therefore, part of the problem.

      As a non-Indigenous student, I feel that there is such a fine line between wanting to do something and speaking for the community. I think that focus should be bringing Indigenous and Métis voices to the front and simply listening to the communities and not trying to “help” or offer “solutions.”

      That said, for those of us who are guests in this country, we have a responsibility to educate ourselves and not put the onus on Indigenous communities to educate us. Increased courses at AU (with Indigenous professors) regarding the creation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, UNDRIP, and treaty history would be so beneficial, especially if made mandatory. I have seen that AU offers various courses in Cree and Indigenous governance; expansion of the programs would be ideal.

      – Natalia Iwanek

    • #193932

      You make some good points about the benefit of AU for Indigenous students being that it’s distance education and the advocacy for more degree programs.

      I would advocate for a Bachelor of Professional Arts with a major in Indigenous Criminal Justice. There seems to be a lack of understanding across Canada of how Indigenous communities work and how our criminal justice overall needs to change due to systemic racism. For example, having more representatives across Canada who would become experts in understanding a circle as opposed to using the traditional courts, would be able to know how effective it would be and would be useful in cases such as our more recent political crisis regarding a corporation versus a nation, and how to deal with situations where a nation may have supporters of a project versus those who oppose it. AU could be one of catalyst post-secondary institutions that can offer this opportunity to avert future crisis.

      Fahid Hussain

    • #193940

    • #193961

      I think it is important for AUSU to ensure that the AU Indigenous student population is properly represented within the AUSU council. Indigenous people deserve to represent themselves, bring forward their thoughts and ideas of how Truth and Reconciliation and other indigenous issues should be implemented within the organization, and be given the space and tools necessary to do what needs to be done. For too long, non-indigenous people have tried to determine what Indigenous people need and how they can go about getting it. Only those living the experience should be the ones to determine the steps to be taken to tackle the issues. Then, and only then, should Indigenous people invite non-Indigenous people, if needed, to provide any assistance needed to incorporate Truth and Reconciliation and other indigenous issues into the organization.

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