Support for FNSA’s ‘Let Us Speak’ Campaign

To the SFU Administration,

The Simon Fraser Public Interest Research Group (SFPIRG) expresses strong support for Indigenous students, Indigenous community members, and the First Nations Students Association in their ‘Let Us Speak’ campaign. SFPIRG recognizes that the treatment of Indigenous students by the SFU administration constitutes colonial institutional violence, and we add our voices to those calling for SFU to carry out FNSA’s Original Calls to Action, and their Calls to Witness.

SFU’s path to reconciliation necessarily requires taking leadership from Indigenous students and community members. Yet, as FNSA has repeatedly explained, Indigenous students and community members have been actively excluded from reconciliation projects at SFU. That is, the very Indigenous student leaders who, like those before them, are at the forefront of the effort to encourage all of us to become the better versions of ourselves, and the very students that ought to benefit from anything called ‘reconciliation’, find themselves not only frustrated by the process put in place by SFU, but experiencing fresh harm because of it.

There have been many instances of recent harm to Indigenous students within the “reconciliation” process, which has excluded and silenced Indigenous students, and has maintained colonial power relations. For instance, the FNSA was told nothing about the First Peoples Gathering House until the project was in its final stages of planning, and were not invited to the “consultative workshop” about the project on October 1st 2020. Some Indigenous students nonetheless managed to attend, but while there, found that their input was not valued. Indigenous student leaders, when they have been included at all, have received last minute invitations to, for instance, the Aboriginal Steering Committee meeting on November 12th. They were made aware of this meeting only days before, only three representatives were permitted to attend, and they were not sent the agenda until the day of the meeting itself.

SFU’s treatment severely marginalizes Indigenous students by keeping their numbers minimal, denying them time to prepare, and preventing them from consulting with their membership. All of which sends the message, once again, that meaningful consultation with Indigenous students, and the full participation of Indigenous student representatives, is not viewed as essential by those holding power.

SFU has failed to undertake meaningful consultation, and has relied on the unpaid labour of Indigenous students without actively and truthfully listening to Indigenous students and community members. These consultation processes have been exploitative and extractive, and have re-traumatized Indigenous students. Through these inadequate efforts at reconciliation and consultation, SFU has devalued Indigenous knowledge, and dismissed and marginalized Indigenous students and community members, thereby sending the message that meaningful consultation with Indigenous students is not viewed as essential by those holding power.

Ultimately, reconciliation at SFU community is impossible without following the leadership of Indigenous students and community members. We hope that the letters you are receiving from Indigenous students and from the wider community remind you of your responsibility to respect Indigenous students, to create spaces that respect Indigenous students, and to uphold justice for Indigenous people. We urge you to align your actions with your professed commitment to reconciliation and consultation by listening to Indigenous students, honouring their labour and knowledge, engaging in meaningful consultation, and carrying out FNSA’s Original Calls to Action, and their Calls to Witness. The calls to witness are:

  1. Create space on the First Peoples Gathering House (FPGH) Building committee for Indigenous Students and a Community Advisory Board:
    • This includes but is not limited to the FNSA Board, SFU’s Indigenous Elders, and key community members who have shown their ability to work with Indigenous students
    • Ensure that the establishment of this advisory board properly compensates members for their time, and practices Indigenous ways of knowing through reciprocity
  2. Delay the development of the First Peoples Gathering House until Indigenous Students and key community members are properly consulted
    • A minimum of three more public forums for Indigenous students to participate in
    • Ensure that Host Nations are consulted with and updated on an ongoing basis
    • Ongoing consultation with the SFU Elders, as well as an apology for not including their voices in this process
    • Public, accessible documents, and ongoing documentation for the FPGH should be sent well in advance for these meetings.
    • Prioritize planning meetings with Indigenous students and being mindful of our busy schedules
  3. A public statement outlining the harms that have been caused to Indigenous students and the community and to commit to ensuring that Indigenous students are prioritized in future reconciliation efforts at SFU
  4. Commit to following through the original Calls to Actions set out by the FNSA and Indigenous community

We hope that everyone, especially those of you in the University power structure, will take a breath, set aside defensiveness, work towards these actions, and fundamentally transform the colonial power relations between Indigenous students and the University, and between Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the SFU community.

In solidarity with FNSA and Indigenous students,