OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS
Teionkwatonhontsó:ni a’iakwariwahní:rate tsi nón:we ratehiatónkwa ne SSMU Tsionterihwaienstáhkhwa ohén:ton Rón:nete tis iáh nenwén:ton tehonnatenakarahseratká:wen ne kanien’kehá:ka tánon ne Anishnabeg. SSMU ohén:ton Rón:nete tehonwanarénhsarons, ronwatiien’té:res tànon ronwatiriwakwenniénhstha na Kanien’kehá:ka tánon tsi ronnón:ha rontehontsanónhnha tánon ronteniataranónhnha tsi nón:we ón:wa wenhniserá:te tetewatátkens tánon wahón:nise tsi náhe thia’tekanakerahserà:ke kén:ien nón:we tahontákenhskwe tánon tehontatá:wihskwe.
The SSMU acknowledges that McGill University is situated on the traditional and unceded territory of the Anishinaabe and Haudenosaunee nations. The SSMU recognizes and respects these nations as the true and constant custodians of the lands and waters on which we meet today. Further, the SSMU commits to and respects the traditional laws and customs of these territories.
The External Affairs office would like to thank the Kanien’kehá:ka for their past and present stewardship over and protection of the lands on which we stand, and to express our solidarity with the vibrant Mohawk and other Indigenous communities that continue to thrive despite the ongoing settler-colonialism. All of us living and organizing in Tiohtià:ke (Montreal) have a responsibility to educate ourselves on and uphold the original intent, laws, and spirit of the Two-Row Wampum, which is based on reciprocal relationships of peace, friendship, and respect. As advocates of justice, we must always remind ourselves of the historical injustice that makes our gathering here possible and to redress the injustices that continue to pervade our society and culture. We must go beyond land acknowledgements and work to dismantle the systems of colonial oppression and exploitation that we live under.
We encourage you to take a moment to acknowledge the traditional stewards of the land that you are on. We cannot stress enough the importance of going beyond land acknowledgements notably by engaging with Indigenous realities, past and present, and centering Indigenous voices and experiences.
McGill University has historically failed to recognize and address its role in colonialism and the ongoing oppression of Indigenous peoples. Over the years, various campaigns have taken place to hold McGill accountable to Indigenous Communities. The External Affairs Office has a duty to recognize historic and ongoing systems of oppression and marginalization and do our best to combat them. It is therefore our responsibility to conduct or support initiatives which foster equitable social change and anti-oppressive politics such as those listed below.
“Solidarity, community, and reciprocity are some of the most powerful methods that we have as students when challenging McGill as an institution and fighting for student rights.”
Tomas Jirousek, Former Indigenous Affairs Commissioner
Change The Name
In 2018, SSMU Indigenous Affairs started a campaign to change the name of McGill’s varsity teams. This was following decades of advocacy by Indigenous students beginning in the 1970s that were largely ignored by McGill until the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Commission report alongside student advocacy from individuals like Tomas Jirousek brought greater attention to the issue. The McGill Redmen name, used since 1926, was changed to McGill Redbirds and Martlets in 2020 as a result of demonstrations, an open letter, and a student referendum.
Changing the name of the varsity teams was judged as a priority by the Task Force on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education in their final report (2017). Despite McGill’s claim that the name was harmless in origin, the varsity teams kept their blatantly racist name for more than 60 years.
Only after two years of strong mobilization did McGill accept that changing the varsity teams’ name was necessary; taking a first step towards addressing McGill’s role as a colonial and racist institution. While the External Affairs team is relieved that McGill decided to take action, we would like to invite McGill to continue to engage with its colonial and racist history notably by implementing the other calls to action presented in the Task Force’s report.
Take James Down
In the summer of 2020, the Black Student Network and the Indigenous Student Alliance mobilized to call out the systematic oppression against Black and Indigenous community members and demanded change. They launched a heartfelt political campaign for the removal of the James McGill statue on the downtown campus. Student-led movements demanded that the McGill administration publicly recognize the ties between its founder, James McGill, and slavery. James McGill was a known slave owner and he financially benefited from having Black and Indigenous enslaved people. The campaign also asked for “a deeper, more complete education surrounding James McGill’s life and actions”. For a better understanding of the campaign’s demands, check out this report. You are also invited to watch this short documentary, Forgotten Names: The People Enslaved by James McGill, produced by My Media Creative.
After being vandalized in July 2021, the statue was removed. It has not yet been put back on campus. One can only speculate on the reasons behind this, but one would like to think it is the result of strong mobilization by the student body.
You can access a transcript of the audio of “The Forgotten Named” by the External Affairs office here.
For 12 consecutive days, in March 2022, students occupied the McCall MacBain Arts building at McGill University. Dozens of tents blocked the hallway and the atmosphere was festive. The different people occupying the building were clear in their position: they were not asking for anything, they were building, independently, the democratization of their university.
Their critique of the institution insisted on McGill’s racist, imperialist, and colonial past and present. More specifically, they highlighted how the university fails to uphold Indigenous sovereignty. Indeed, to this day, McGill continues to fund “colonial projects like the Coastal GasLink pipeline trespassing on unceded Wet’suwet’en territory”, and wilfully ignores the demands of the Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera, an important Indigenous stakeholder in Tiohtià:ke. McGill also has no intention to pay the money it owes after having borrowed an important sum from the Six Nations Trust Fund in 1850.
To learn more about the pillars of this occupation, consult Occupy McGill’s manifesto: Education for Liberation, Not Corporation.
Royal Victoria For the Public Good
In November 2021, the Students Society of McGill University submitted the Royal Victoria Hospital Public Consultation Memoir to the Office of Public Consultation of the City of Montreal (OCPM). In it, SSMU asserts the demands of Indigenous stakeholders.
The Royal Victoria site holds great importance to the Indigenous community in Montréal. The Kanien’kehá:ka Kahnistensera, culturally known within the Mohawk people as the care-holders of the quenondah (two mountains/mount royal), have clearly stated they have stewardship over the land. Moreover, after discovering that the Royal Victoria Hospital site contains archeological remains from the original precolonial Iroquoian village, the Mohawk Peoples called for investigation of the Allan Memorial Institute “for potential unmarked graves and proof of atrocities committed during the MK-Ultra program, between 1954 and 1963.” Consequently, multiple Indigenous groups, including the Mohawk Mothers, have demanded to immediately halt construction and examine the land.
The Royal Victoria site has also recently been a safe environment for the Indigenous unhoused population over the past several years. Using this space for public good, however, would allow for opportunities such as housing, workshops, mental health services, Indigenous leadership meetings, and more to take place, making the Royal Victoria site a place of safety and comfort for Indigenous Peoples in this area.
Current Advocacy Towards McGill University
In partnership with Indigenous stakeholders, the Society continues to advocate for change within McGill University. Below are some essential steps McGill must take to address its role as a colonial institution
- McGill must actively respect, consult with, and take direction from Indigenous Stakeholders. This means:
- Indigenous peoples must have a formal role in the decision-making processes of the University (e.g., representation at the Board of Governors and in senior administrative positions).
- McGill must increase Indigenous presence on the University campus as a whole. This means:
- Better recruitment, retainment, and support Indigenous students (notably through better University-run services that account for Indigenous students’ unique perspectives and needs);
- An increased number of Indigenous faculty and support staff members;
- The development a full Indigenous Studies department;
- As well as, physical and symbolic representations on campus that reflect Indigenous history and continued presence on the land, specifically that of the Haudenosaunee and Anishinaabe peoples.
Indigenous Equity Fund
In 2019, following the recommendation of the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner, students voted for the implementation of an Indigenous Equity Fund. This fund allows greater fiscal autonomy to Indigenous communities on campus as it is free from the external influence of SSMU. This fund finances the activities of the SSMU Indigenous Affairs Committee, the salary of the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner, and projects that support Indigenous students at McGill, as deemed appropriate by Indigenous students, and Indigenous students only. The Indigenous Equity Fund can also be used as financial support for Indigenous undergraduate students at McGill.
If you have any question about the fund, email the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner (email@example.com).
Indigenous Affairs Commissioner
The Indigenous Affairs Commissioner is responsible for representing Indigenous students at the SSMU through the work of the Indigenous Affairs Committee. The Commissioner is mandated to support Indigenous equity by organizing and facilitating events aimed at uplifting and meeting the needs of Indigenous students on campus.
Over the years, many have recommended that the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner (IAC) should be accountable to Indigenous students, not the SSMU executives. Indeed, the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner needs the flexibility to challenge the institution without being subject to pressure from the SSMU executive. Unfortunately, at the moment, Indigenous Affairs is still under the University Affairs portfolio. However, many steps have been taken to provide greater autonomy to the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner, notably delegation of authority over the Indigenous Affairs budget.
To contact the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Indigenous Solidarity Policy
The Indigenous Solidarity Policy operationalizes SSMU Indigenous Equity Position and guarantees access for Indigenous Students at McGill to SSMU listserv, room booking privileges, and seats on administrative committees.
It recognizes the importance of developing relationships with McGill-based and local Indigenous groups that are grounded in open communication and respect. Indeed, meaningful advocacy and decision-making can only occur in dialogue and ongoing engagement with Indigenous communities.
Of note is the Student Society’s position on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Of course, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) framework is not universally accepted and does not meet the needs of all Indigenous peoples. However, the SSMU believes in the implementation and maintenance of these Calls to Action based on community consultation and direction, taking into account other local resurgence, nationhood, self-determination, and and self-governance frameworks, with a particular focus on Calls to Action 6-17, 62-66, and 87-92, which focus on issues within the scope of a university institution including Education, Language and Culture, Education for Reconciliation, Sports and Reconciliation, and Business and Reconciliation.
Indigenous Consultation Guide
This consultation guide, created by the Vice-Presidents (Student Life) and (External Affairs) in accordance with the Indigenous Solidarity Policy, is intended to act as a starting point for consultation with Indigenous individuals and groups. It maps out Key Considerations for Meaningful Consultation, and includes Resources for Further Learning.
Resources for Further Learning
Indigenous Affairs at McGill
- SSMU’s Indigenizing the Academy Report which explains what SSMU offers (and doesn’t offer) Indigenous students. It identifies many of the deficiencies in McGill’s current practices and recommended reforms.
- The Indigeneity and Allyship Report 2016 created by SSMU’s Indigenous Affairs Coordinator explains the negative impacts that the McGill environment has on Indigenous students
- Provost’s TaskForce on Indigenous Studies and Indigenous Education – Final Report
Canadian Indigenous Affairs
- Indigenous Relations: Insights, Tips & Suggestions to Make Reconciliation a Reality, book written by Bob Joseph and Cynthia F. Joseph, available as an e-book in the McGill Library
- 21 Things You May Not Know About The Indian Act: Helping Canadians Make Reconciliation With Indigenous Peoples a Reality, book written by Bob Joseph, available as an e-book in the McGill Library
- A Memo to Canada: Indigenous Peoples Are Not Your Incompetent Children by Alicia Elliott
- Genocide? Murder? Criminal Negligence? Or Passive Indifference? Canada is Killing Our People by Indigenous Nationhood
- How the Canadian legal system fails Indigenous people like Colten Boushie: U of T expert by Geoffrey Vendeville
- Where are the Children buried? with Informational graphics on Canadian Residential Schools By Dr. Scott Hamilton
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission
- Reports by the National Center for Truth and Reconciliation
- Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future the Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
- What We Have Learned: Principles of Truth and Reconciliation
- The Survivors Speak A Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
- Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada: Calls to Action
- Canada’s Residential Schools: The History, Part 1 Origins to 1939 & The History, Part 2 1939 to 2000
- LAND BACK! What do we mean?
- Land Back: A Yellowhead Institute Red Paper
- Wet’suwet’en Supporter Toolkit 2020
Allyship and Solidarity
- What is a Guest? What is a Settler? by Ruth Koleszar-Green
- Cultural Safety by Jessica Ball
- All Mouth and No Ears: Settlers With Opinions by Daniel Heath Justice
- Accomplices not Allies by Indigenous Action
- The Decolonial Toolbox: An Educational Pathwayby Concordia University’s Office of Community Engagement, Mikana and the Montreal Indigenous Community NETWORK.
- Indigenous Ally Toolkit by Montreal Urban Aboriginal Community Strategy Network
- Resources from the Anti-Oppression Network, a grassroots group operating in what is colonially known as Vancouver, Canada
Groups to Follow @McGill and Elsewhere
SSMU Indigenous Affairs Committee:
Indigenous Law Association at McGill (ILADA):
Indigenous Student Alliance (ISA):
McGill Students’ Chapter of AISES (American Indian Science and Engineering Society)
Desautels Indigenous Business Society
McGill Students’ Indigenous Studies Journal
Groups Beyond Campus
- The Kanienkehaka Kahnistensera (Mohawk Mothers)
- Black-Indigenous Harm Reduction Alliance
- First Peoples Justice Centre of Montreal
- Mohawk Council of Kahnawake
- Montreal Indigenous Community Network
- Native Friendship Centre of Montreal
- Intercollegiate Decolonization Network
- Indigenous Women and Two-Spirit Harm Reduction Coalition