The Post-Graduate Students’ Society of McGill (PGSS) came together for its first Council meeting of the academic year this past Wednesday. Several motions were passed including the adoption of a Traditional Territory Acknowledgement Statement, and an increase in graduate student fees due to ongoing legal costs associated with the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS). Council additionally discussed plans for McGill’s financial divestment from the fossil fuel industry.
Traditional Territory Acknowledgement
PGSS proposed a motion to adopt a Traditional Territory Acknowledgement Statement to recognize Indigenous land claims made to the property of McGill University. The statement was drafted in collaboration with Indigenous members of the McGill community, the Kahnawake Cultural Centre and Indigenous Studies scholars across Canada.
“McGill University is located on land which has long served as a site of meeting and exchange amongst Indigenous peoples, including the Haudenosaunee and Anishinabeg nations,” the statement reads. “McGill University honours and respects the diverse Indigenous peoples connected to this territory on which we gather today.”
The motion mandates that it will be displayed prominently on the PGSS website and recited before PGSS Council sessions, meetings, and assemblies.
External Affairs Officer Bradley Por addressed the concern that this statement initially received.
“A lot of that [resistance] has been about the text of the statement,” he said. “I guess [it] was fear of land claims, and there’s really no chance of that happening. The current statement doesn’t specifically say that this is someone else’s land. “
Por also stated that it was the responsibility of PGSS to acknowledge the Indigenous ties that McGill’s land has.
“It’s up to us to recognize the history and the truth of this land and it’s an important statement for us to make as a council,” he said.
Increases in Special Projects, Membership Fees
Financial Affairs Officer Behrang Sharif announced that following PGSS’ withdrawal from the CFS, an organization that lobbies at the federal level for student rights, in 2010, the PGSS budget has accrued a deficit of $611,000. A large part of this deficit comes from the costs of ongoing legal cases PGSS has with CFS.
“In 2010 we decided to get out of CFS,” he said. “We were charged about $120,000 a year for membership in this Federation and they were doing nothing. [PGSS] decided to get out of that Federation, […] stopped paying [membership fees] and started litigation against CFS. “
To address the deficit, PGSS passed a motion raising certain fees for all graduate students. The Special Projects Fund, which was created in response to the need for legal costs, will have its fees raised from $4.60 to $6.60 per semester, and PGSS membership fees will be raised from $32.59 to $35.85 per semester. These increases will be tied to inflation until 2027 and will be implemented starting January 2016.
“In exactly 11 semesters, if we do everything perfectly, we could recuperate that $611,000,” Sharif said.
PGSS Environmental Co-Commissioner Victor Frankel expressed interest in reducing McGill’s involvement in the fossil fuel industry. McGill’s current endowment contains significant investments in this sector, including energy companies such as Shell, Chevron, Enbridge, and Suncor. Frankel explained that Divest McGill has taken a 160-page report and petition concerning divestment to McGill’s Board of Governors.
“We’re moving forward with petitioning the Board of Governors, [who] received our petition last year, to freeze all investments in fossil fuels, which is a tanking economy, but also to consider the petition to divest on grounds of social injury,” Frankel said.
Additionally, Divest McGill will be hosting Fossil Free Week from September 21 through 25, aimed at furthering McGill’s plans to combat climate change.
“We’re going to be having workshops, teachings by professors, special speakers, and indigenous peoples,” Frankel said. “We will also have a march from Community Square to the CBC studios where the [Canadian Federal leaders] will be debating next Thursday.”
Frankel also announced his plans to submit a motion for re-endorsement of the petition towards divestment at the next Council meeting.