Letter to the editor: Indigenous students at McGill: Alive and well

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Watching the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Winter General Assembly (GA) livestream as an Indigenous student was painful. Indigenous peoples' needs were brought out to support motions that had no active endorsement by Indigenous students. Our fights and struggles were discussed as a way to make issues relevant or motions were brought out by non-Indigenous people seeking to support Indigenous peoples without having spoken to Indigenous students that are represented by SSMU. I'm not here to say whether the Motion Regarding Support for the BDS Movement or the Motion Regarding the Kahtihon’tia:kwenio were wrong, but that it was painful watching the disregard for Indigenous students at McGill by groups claiming to be anti-oppressive.

In the time leading up to the GA, I had seen the Motion Regarding an Increase in Indigenous Content at McGill used as a method to make the Motion Regarding Support for the BDS Movement relevant to students. I received an email sent to the entirety of one of my Indigenous Studies classes using the motion as a segue into paragraphs describing the need for the Motion Regarding Support for the BDS Movement to pass, with only a link given to the motion relevant to the course. I felt used. An issue that affects me on a daily basis was used as a method to raise awareness for a separate, highly controversial motion. On another occasion, a student came to make an announcement in a political science class focusing on Aboriginal politics. After thoroughly describing the Motion Regarding Support for the BDS Movement, the student took about 30 seconds to mention the Motion Regarding an Increase in Indigenous Content at McGill and made a comment to the effect of “I hope you will see the similarities and therefore vote ‘Yes’ for BDS.”

The Motion Regarding the Kahtihon’tia:kwenio was presented without regard to the differing opinions of Indigenous students or thoughts as to how such a motion could impact them. McGill has students from the same community as the women title holders, and they were neither consulted nor made aware of the motion. The movers of the motion were warned of controversy and chose to not consult. A motion such as this can have impacts on how Indigenous students are perceived on campus and for some in their home communities.

These choices impact Indigenous students. We struggle for visibility on a campus with only 230 undergraduate students identifying as Indigenous (for reference, 23,140 undergraduate students enrolled in Fall 2015). To have our needs spoken for by others or used as justification for other motions adds to this invisibility. We are here and we can speak for ourselves. Allyship is standing behind, not in front, of those you are in solidarity with. When others speak on our behalf or speak of us without inviting us into the discussion, it perpetuates the idea that we are not here. But we are.