On the 29th of November, the Indigenous Students Society hosted the first ever forum to talk about issues facing Indigenous Students at Saint Mary’s University. The forum took place in the new CLARI room in the Atrium and was well attended with representatives from every faculty, most of SMUSA was there, as well as Dr. Summerby-Murray.
The room was full of people but it was also full of emotion. It is very clear that Indigenous students on this campus feel left out, bullied, and racialized. Many students shared their experiences with blatant racism and ignorance they have faced on campus. For example one student said there was no warning put forth by a professor before showing a film about residential schools. Other students expressed the pain they feel when people say anti-Indigenous things in front of them because they do not “look” Indigenous but are very much part of the Indigenous community in their values, traditions, and culture. Indigenous students also expressed anger for how this forum and the other changes on campus pertaining to Indigenous students came about. Many changes only came after the tragic death of Loretta Saunders in early 2015. Additionally, students who have attended other universities say that other schools have a much better support system for Indigenous students than SMU.
One issue that was repeated multiple times was that there is no Elder on campus. An Elder is someone who has gained recognition as a custodian of knowledge and lore, and who has permission to disclose knowledge and beliefs. Indigenous students at other schools speak to Elders when they have any questions or concerns and many Indigenous students at SMU are currently going to DAL to talk to an Elder. Additionally, there is currently no Indigenous Student Advisor, which was promised to Indigenous Students back in May of 2015, after it was a recommendation in the President’s task force report. Right now, a student is working 15hrs/wk to act as the Indigenous Student Advisor until one is put in place, but there are clearly more than just a few students seeking help. Additionally, there are a few faculty members who are unofficially acting as advisors for Indigenous Students. Another issue was the lack of Indigenous related classes at SMU. There are solutions coming to all of these problems according to the administration in attendance. According to the administration, the hiring process for the Indigenous Student Advisor is around the corner, the Associate Dean of Arts says that they are developing a Minor in Indigenous Studies program for SMU, and Dr. Summerby-Murray says that they are looking into the idea of having an Elder on residence.
The Co-Presidents of the Indigenous Society, Elora Gehue and Boyce Campbell, say that they believe the event went well and they were happy with the tournout and the conversations that took place during the forum.The Indigenous Society is a new scoiety this year. If you would like more infor on their society you can send a message to Elora or Boyce at SMUIndigenous@gmail.com or look them up on Facebook, the group is entitled “SMU Indigenous Students Society” and they post local Indigenous events as well as updates on the changes SMU is making pertaining to Indigenous Students.
There was clearly a lot of topics discussed in this meeting and as important as it was that this forum was happening, there are still many steps to be taken by everyone. How can you help? Educate yourself (Watch for the Indigenous Society’s next event set for January 11th), think before you speak, ask an Indigenous person about their traditions and holidays, and most importantly, be kind to everyone.