Report on the Status of the Indigenous Students Policy Paper and Next Steps Spring 2021

At OUSA’s Spring 2021 General Assembly in March, the authorship team working on OUSA’s Indigenous Students policy paper presented a Report to the General Assembly on the Status of the Indigenous Students Policy Paper. Our team includes:

 

Emily DuBois Brooks. Indigenous Undergraduate Student representing Wilfrid Laurier University. Proudly Algonquin and application in progress for Métis status through the Alberta Métis Nation. Proud Mom.

Connor Lafortune. Anishinaabek nini. Indigenous Undergraduate Student representing Laurentian University. Indigenous Student Circle representative. Okikendawt, Dokis First Nation.

Page Chartrand. Anishnaabekwe. Indigenous Undergraduate Student representing Laurentian University. Indigenous Student Circle representative. N'Swakmok/Sudbury.

Alyssa Trick. Indigenous Undergraduate Student representing Laurentian University. Indigenous Students Circle Senate Representative. National Ambassador of Hope for We Matter. Mixed Anishinaabekwe descending from Alderville First Nation.

and

Julia Pereira, Vice President of University Affairs of Wilfrid Laurier University Students' Union, OUSA President.

Malek Abou-Rabia, Vice President Education of Laurentian University’s Students’ General Association, OUSA Steering Committee Member.

 

Together our team attempted to capture the work being done to build relationships, reimagine OUSA’s internal operations and policy processes, and connect with students at each of OUSA’s member schools. 

The Report details OUSA’s history of policy and advocacy in support of Indigenous students, including concerns raised by Indigenous students at the time of the 2017 policy paper process, as well as those raised by students and the authorship team as we began work to re-write our policy paper for 2021. 

It discusses the steps OUSA has taken, and will continue to take, to acknowledge their inappropriate history of Indigenous student engagement (or lack thereof) and to ensure that OUSA learns from past mistakes and moves forward in a way that centres Indigenous student leadership and honours Indigenous student voices. 

Included in the report are a number of guiding principles that will inform the work we do moving forward, both as we aim to create a policy document to inform OUSA’s advcoacy in support of Indigenous students and as we continue the work done this year in regards to OUSA’s long-term planning as an organization. They include: 

  • Open and active listening to Indigenous peoples;
  • Inclusion of various voices;
  • Not tokenizing voices (one “Indian” perspective);
  • Pluralizing the cultures included (utilizing all nations);
  • Make an effort to include French-Indigenous people (not just Métis);
  • Continuous communication with Indigenous people throughout the process;
  • Doing the work in an Indigenous fashion (forgetting bureaucracy);
  • Create land acknowledgements in collaboration with Indigenous people, but it is the responsibility of non-Indigenous people to initiate and present them;
  • Self-education for those who do not understand Indigenous histories, it is not up to an Indigenous person to educate you on their issues;
  • To not expect every Indigenous person to have the same thoughts/ views/ experiences;
  • Recognize diverse histories of Indigenous peoples, and that many may hold onto their rage.

While our most immediate goal is to ensure that OUSA’s policy stance reflects the voices of Indigenous students, the work we have started is part of an ongoing commitment for OUSA to learn from past mistakes, rebuild trust with Indigenous students, and move towards a decolonized organization in order to advocate respectfully, meaningfully, and effectively with Indigenous students across the province. 

We will continue to provide updates on our progress and to share the changes being implemented by OUSA to honour the work we are doing and create a foundation for future students to build on. As we move forward we hope to connect and work with as many Indigenous students as possible in the spirit of inclusivity. If you are interested in joining us, you can connect with us here.

The decolonization of university spaces must include the implementation of Indigenous methodology in our core processes of consulting student data, and applying this data to create inclusive and applicable policy that serves to implement change. Highlighting and including Indigenous methodology in our processes not only works to implement the decolonization of OUSA’s represented member campuses, but ensures a foundational decolonization of OUSA’s own methodology, reports, measures, policies and publications. In order to dedicate our work to effective decolonization and reconciliation efforts, we recognize and respect that our methodology must lead this course of action by example. Indigenizing the university space doesn’t solely include the decolonization of physical space, but also the recognition of the value of Indigenous representation, culture, methodology, and equality within the academic and public sphere. Honouring Indigenous methodology through our process ensures that many Indigenous students' voices are heard, represented, respected, and included within each process and policy in order to create safe spaces for Indigeneity to thrive. 

It is paramount that we honour Indigenous voices, methodology and experiences in each process and study performed, not only at OUSA, but within the discussions and studies of each academic institution. By creating processes that value Indigenous rights and contributions, it will aid in reconciliation and normalize carefully considering Indigenous needs and culture within both the micro interactions and macro systematic processes...The process of  decolonizing space is an everyday battle for many Indigenous people, who must navigate colonial processes and educate people on racialized experience and history. In order to value Indigeneity, we must create and prioritize space for Indigenous voices and cultural expression. Reconciliation is a responsibility we are dedicated to, and this involves creating policy that is authentic and inclusive of the needs of Indigenous students, and suggesting policy that is detailed and implementable so that change occurs. Policy change begins here, with us, not simply in our papers, but in our devotion to allyship in OUSA’s processes and hiring practices to reflect social, cultural and academic inclusivity.

-Excerpt from the Report to the General Assembly on the Status of the Indigenous Students Policy Paper, March 2021