On the motion regarding support of the Kahtihon’tia:kwenio
Indigenous students at McGill University suffer from underrepresentation and, consequently, misrepresentation. Stereotypes, prejudice, and systemic racism are just the beginning of complex Indigenous relations at McGill. With only 230 Indigenous students attending the university, consultation with Indigenous students is simply overlooked. As coordinator of the Indigenous Student Alliance (ISA), I am obliged to change that. The Motion Regarding Support of the Kahtihon’tia:kwenio has forced me to publicly address the lack of Indigenous student consultation and the ramifications of these actions.
The motion is certainly complex. Some resolutions in the motion, for example, requiring the Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) to lobby McGill’s administration to listen to Indigenous voices, hint at similar goals that Indigenous groups on campus have been working towards for years. But the motion, which was described as being created with “extensive consultation with Indigenous women,” never asked for the ISA’s input or the input of the Indigenous Education Advisor or the First Peoples’ House. SSMU’s Indigenous Affairs Coordinator had advised the motion movers to consult Indigenous students first. They declined to.
Indigenous peoples are not homogenous; we are politically pluralistic and represent a diversity of perspectives. For example, in Fall 2015, a handful of student groups hosted events with Kahentinetha Horn. Some members of the ISA felt it was necessary to ask these groups to invite additional Indigenous speakers because Kahentinetha Horn is a radical Indigenous speaker who often claims to represent all Indigenous peoples. The student groups simply did not know Kahentinetha Horn’s history and did not think to ask Indigenous students on campus if it was appropriate to invite her.
Kahentinetha Horn is a driving force behind the development of the motion and is the author of the notice of seizure sent to McGill in September. The motion movers referenced the notice as an important reason for their motion; however, Kahentinetha Horn has produced controversial works previously, without the support of the Longhouse of Kahnawake, and her notice of eviction was no exception. In my own experience, the eviction notice raised concern amongst uninformed students who saw the notice as a legal threat from hostile natives. Of course the intention of the notice was to give the air of legal significance, but being issued by just one community member of the Mohawk Nation does not actually give it any weight. Had the motion movers consulted the ISA or First Peoples’ House, Indigenous students would have been able to explain these nuances non-community members might overlook. Consultation with the community would be even better, and ISA could have pointed them in the right direction.
The motion’s resolutions also contained troubling points of action. The Kahtihon’tia:kwenio are not, to my knowledge, students at McGill, and yet the resolution asks SSMU to “support [them]… through methods including, but not limited to: Education, publicity, funds, and material support.” The resolutions include no mention of consultation with Indigenous students, Indigenous services on campus, and, most importantly, the communities the Kahtihon’tia:kwenio are from. The motion movers explained they were told it was “not their place to consult with [the women’s] community,” which may be true, but is also rather suspicious given that Kahentinetha Horn has not received much community support on this issue and Six Nations has been pursuing litigation against the federal government on the loan repayment for quite some time.
In sum, this motion was made without consultation with Indigenous students and relies upon a controversial Indigenous figure’s statements, which are not backed by her community. Its resolutions bring up important points on hearing Indigenous voices but the motion movers excluded most of those voices in the first place. Had Indigenous students and administrators in the university been approached before the motion was made, we would have had a chance to explain the controversy behind the notice of eviction and make the motion more appropriate. After the motion was postponed, I had a chance to talk with the motion movers, and we agreed to discuss and work together on the motion and similar motions in the future. I hope this situation serves as a learning point for the university and will encourage future consultation with Indigenous students on Indigenous issues.