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Indigenous Leadership Academy proposal for the RVH site has been submitted. ( Jack Neal / McGill Tribune)

Proposing the future of the Royal Victoria Hospital site

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This past week, the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) passed a motion supporting the use of the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) site for the establishment of an Indigenous Leadership Academy.

Of McGill’s undergraduate population of approximately 23,000 students, 170 identify as indigenous, with even fewer indigenous faculty and staff members. A 2014 study conducted at McGill reported that Indigenous students regularly face racial microagressions, cited as often the unintentional result of ignorance. Improved indigenous representation was recently celebrated with the new Indigenous Studies minor in Winter 2015. Now, the indigenous community may become further involved through one of many new proposals for the Royal Victoria Hospital (RVH) site.

The motion states that it’s goal is to increase the accessibility and inclusiveness of McGill, and outlines the broad scope of the project.

“The Indigenous Leadership Academy would serve as a hub for Indigenous students and their advancement at McGill,” the motion reads. “SSMU is confident that the mission, vision and values of the Indigenous Leadership Academy not only align perfectly with those of our University, but also that we would be creating something truly innovative and forward-thinking.”

Promising to ensure communication between students and McGill, as well as to provide human capital, the motion states that SSMU will work with several other organizations are to develop this proposal.

“In brief, it is a collaboration between the Office of the Dean of Students, SSMU, First Peoples’ House and Student Life and Learning,” SSMU President Kareem Ibrahim said. “The hope is for it to be a great space for increased support for and recruitment of Indigenous students, in addition to providing experiential learning opportunities for Indigenous students.” 

Aboriginal Outreach Administrator of First Peoples’ House Kakwiranó:ron Cook acknowledged the collaborative efforts of the Student Life and Learning (SLL) unit in drafting proposals, and outlined his perspective as a representative of McGill’s Indigenous community.

“The Indigenous Affairs Work Group discussed this, which also includes members who are not within the SLL unit,” Cook said. “The academy is just one aspect of the proposal. The overall goal is to position an Office of Indigenous Affairs there and build out our presence on campus.”

The various SLL proposals were due on Jan. 29 to Deputy Provost Ollivier Dyens, who in turn will submit a single proposal representing the collective interests by Feb. 12. Director of McGill Communications and External Relations Doug Sweet emphasized the large quantity of proposals to be considered.

“We are a long way from any decision on if or how the RVH might be used,” Sweet said. “At the moment, there are a number of studies under way to see if it would be feasible for the University to even take on the RVH. While the idea of an Indigenous leadership academy is an interesting one, according to Deputy Provost (Student Life and Learning) Ollivier Dyens, it is still far too early to talk about the proposal in detail or what the implications might be.”

In a statement to McGill’s Media Relations Office, Robert Poëti, Minister of Transport and Minister responsible for Montreal, attested to the importance for general improvements to be made to the RVH site.

“This is good news for Montrealers, especially in light of the value of this landmark building in terms of heritage, architecture and identity in the heart of the city,” Poëti said.

This proposal intends to foster the inclusion of a strong Indigenous presence, for both McGill and the wider Montreal community.

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