We could spend a long time debating the purpose of a student union, but to us, this much is non-negotiable: a student union provides service to its members, through advocacy, allyship, financial support, and so much more. Most importantly, it is our job to stand firmly in solidarity on the terms of those who ask for it.
Over the past few weeks, certain individuals have chosen, largely via Reddit, to direct disgusting and downright racist comments towards both the SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner Tomas Jirousek and towards the broader movement for greater Indigenous student autonomy within the SSMU. Relying on toxic and discriminatory tropes, these comments were personal, they were targeted, and they served exclusively to exacerbate the struggles that Indigenous students already face on this campus every single day.
As Commissioner Jirousek has explained, “the people who levy these types of comments are people who we sit in class with, people we work out at the gym with, and people who we encounter at the grocery store. As an Indigenous person at McGill I will never know who exactly in a room is thinking/has made these type of comments towards myself or other Indigenous students. And that can be really scary and feel incredibly isolating sometimes.”
These comments have absolutely no place in our community. The labour that Commissioner Jirousek and the Indigenous student body have put into making this campus a better place is unfathomable. In no uncertain terms, we unequivocally condemn the incredibly racist attacks that have been directed their way, and quite frankly, we are ashamed to represent those who felt the need to espouse them.
It is a sick irony then, that these hateful comments were directed towards Indigenous students who are calling for greater autonomy within the SSMU. If nothing else, these attacks demonstrate how necessary this autonomy truly is. Indigenous students at McGill face a host of unique challenges, including, but far from limited to, institutional barriers, intergenerational trauma, and a lack of pedagogical and academic representation. In order to meet these unique challenges, specific support mechanisms for Indigenous students must be put in place. As such, the SSMU fully supports the leadership of the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner and the Indigenous student body at-large in pursuing the following three-step reform plan.
The SSMU needs to be reformed in a way that prioritizes Indigenous student voices and enables the timely mobilization necessary to promote Indigenous student needs. This requires:
- fiscal autonomy;
- reforms to the internal power dynamics within the SSMU; and
- amendments to the Indigenous Solidarity Policy to ensure that Indigenous students have access to all the resources necessary for mobilization.
Indigenous students need fiscal autonomy in order to enable proper mobilization and long-term projects. Additionally, the SSMU acknowledges the unique fiscal challenges Indigenous students may face when attending McGill. The SSMU recognizes the ability of the proposed Indigenous Equity Fee to meet such needs, including providing funds to Indigenous students struggling to access safe and affordable housing, or accessing healthy meals.
Secondly, the SSMU recognizes the need for structural internal reform. The Indigenous Affairs portfolio requires a higher degree of flexibility and autonomy. This means shifting internal power dynamics and moving the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner to a position independent of oversight from a SSMU executive. The SSMU should be, and must be, responsible to Indigenous students. As such, the Indigenous Affairs portfolio must be afforded necessary autonomy to hold the SSMU accountable.
Finally, Indigenous students must have the ability to mobilize rapidly to meet and address their own concerns on campus. By amending the SSMU Indigenous Solidarity Policy, we can ensure that Indigenous students are offered useful resources such as the SSMU listserv, room bookings, and other institutional support. The ability to access resources and tools such as these will enable Indigenous students to proactively and effectively challenge McGill.
All students, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, need to maintain a clear focus on allyship. Through reforms such as these, we can better foster solidarity; solidarity which will allow SSMU members to challenge the McGill administration on its consistent failure to address the needs of Indigenous students.
The SSMU stands with Indigenous students in demanding an increase in Indigenous representation at McGill, in both academic and administrative services. The SSMU stands with Indigenous students in demanding McGill’s commitment to providing an Indigenous studies major. The SSMU stands with Indigenous students in demanding accountability from our administration.
McGill must do better in meeting the needs of Indigenous students, including the legacy of institutional racism, land dispossession, and colonialism. In solidarity, the SSMU recognizes and endorses the calls for reform from the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner. Indigenous students will continue to challenge McGill and move towards reforms which address the sins of our past. As we head towards McGill’s bicentennial year, Indigenous students have the full support of the SSMU in challenging the administration and moving forward as a united front. As shown during the #ChangeTheName campaign, McGill students can press the administration in a more progressive direction when we stand in solidarity.
Tomas Jirousek / SSMU Indigenous Affairs Commissioner and Chairman of the SSMU Indigenous Affairs Committee | firstname.lastname@example.org
Madeline Wilson / Vice-President (University Affairs) | email@example.com
Bryan Buraga / President | firstname.lastname@example.org
Adam Gwiazda-Amsel / Vice-President (External Affairs) | email@example.com
Sam Haward / Vice-President (Finance) | firstname.lastname@example.org
Billy Kawasaki / Vice-President (Student Life) | email@example.com