Indigenous students are calling on Students’ Society of McGill University (SSMU) Vice-President (VP) Internal Sanchi Bhalla to resign in a letter after allegedly failing to support Indigneous students. The letter asserts that she has failed to fulfill her mandate by declining to allow Indigenous students to use SSMU’s Listserv to advertise an upcoming protest.
The email, which was sent to Bhalla on Oct. 18, referred to a motion presented at the Oct. 10 SSMU Legislative Council meeting regarding the federal government’s recent decision to appeal a ruling that would compensate First Nations children harmed by the child welfare system. SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner Tomas Jirousek presented a motion condemning the government’s action and requested Legislative Council’s support in organizing a demonstration to protest the appeal. The letter states that Bhalla failed to provide support to Indigenous communities, as outlined in her mandate, by being reluctant to use the Listserv to mobilize students.
“[Our mobilisation efforts] require [that] the VP Internal [allow] us to use the Listserv,” Jirousek said. “She was notified both at Legislative Council, [was mandated to do so] at the same council, [and] she was previously reminded in private messages between members of the executive committee. [Her actions] largely led to a breakdown in mandated allyship from the executive team. It threatens our ability as the Indigenous student community to mobilize on a rapid basis.”
In the letter, which was forwarded to The McGill Tribune, Jirousek threatened to resign from his position if Bhalla does not step down due to her lack of support for Indigenous students. Additionally, the letter states that Indigenous students will not be reapplying for the position of Indigenous Affairs Commissioner and will withdraw their support for the Indigenous Affairs Committee.
“By failing to provide timely allyship to Indigenous students, VP Bhalla demonstrated a lack of respect towards the issue as well as the labour that Indigenous students had applied,” the letter reads. “The VP’s lack of support for Indigneous students also demonstrated a lack of respect for the issue of First Nations’ children who have been displaced by the child welfare system.”
Indigenous student leaders cited Bhalla’s alleged lack of support as part of a larger structural issue within SSMU, as Indigenous groups that work under a SSMU portfolio rely on executives to provide them with both financial and organisation support. Catie Galbraith, co-chair of the Indigenous Students’ Alliance, explained that this reliance on external bodies places excessive amounts of strain on the students running them.
“I think it’s representative of this bigger issue of Indigenous students and Indigenous student groups being in such a precarious position all the time,” Galbraith said. “It’s very stressful and it’s very harmful.”
Jirousek agreed, attesting to the importance of having reliable institutional support.
“We do a lot of labour,” Jirousek said. “We’re a small community, and Sanchi and her actions right now are taking away our ability to focus on other issues. You now have three Indigenous students [working in SSMU], all that could be doing work in other regards whether personal, or [academic], or [….] professional. Instead we’re here focused on Sanchi because she’s become a problem for our community.”
Update: The SSMU Executive team has sent a response to the Indigenous student signatories regarding their letter.