UW’s Indigenous Student Association aims to emancipate from Federation

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The University of Waterloo (UW) Indigenous Students Association (ISA) released a statement earlier this week expressing their intent to separate from UW’s Federation of Students and create their own Indigenous Student Union.

The statement comes in correspondence to action taken by the University of Saskatchewan’s Indigenous Students’ Council who took similar steps by creating their own Indigenous Student Union in response to issues surrounding Indigenization on campus.

“They put out a call to other Indigenous groups across Canada to join them in separating. Their long term goal is to create Indigenous Student Unions nation-wide,” said Heather George, public relations coordinator for ISA.

The ISA is currently a club under UW’s Federation of Students, meaning they must abide by policies and regulations pertaining to Federation, as is the case with other undergraduate student clubs on campus.

“There were some I think challenges that come up as being part of an organization like Feds because they have specific ways of doing things which doesn’t always align with the way we might do things that might be beneficial to Indigenous students,” George said.

For example, graduate students at UW are unable to be a part of ISA’s organization under Federation.

“Sometimes there’s strength in numbers but I think there’s also strength in the diversity of Indigenous experiences … I think it’s really helpful for us to be able to make an organization that’s representative of all Indigenous students on campus,” George said.

“Sometimes there’s strength in numbers but I think there’s also strength in the diversity of Indigenous experiences … I think it’s really helpful for us to be able to make an organization that’s representative of all Indigenous students on campus,” George said.

Despite ISA’s aim to create their own union, Federation has had a positive response. According to George, Federation has already reached out to ISA to express their intent on supporting their organization in being their own independent union.

“Feds recognizes the concerns expressed by the Indigenous Students’ Association (ISA) and supports their right to express solidarity with the Indigenous Students’ Council at the University of Saskatchewan. We have reached out to the ISA to gain a better understanding of their needs and what their goals look like in order to determine how we can best facilitate and respond to their efforts to call for change,” said UW Federation of Students executive team in an email statement.

Furthermore, ISA also addressed the Indigenization Strategy implemented by UW earlier this year. Although ISA acknowledged the efforts being made, they reiterated in their statement that no concrete change can occur until “the University of Waterloo takes full responsibility for racism, colonialism, and intolerance BIPOC students encounter on campus.”

Though various members of ISA are working within the Strategy’s working committee, George reiterated that there are no Indigenous members within higher leadership positions nor are these members being given monetary compensation for their work on the committee.

“It would be really great if the strategy was led by an Indigenous person and they were reporting directly to the president,” George said. “We just don’t have diversity at those high levels.”

Although the implementation of the strategy is one step in the right direction, it does not guarantee the long-term, concrete change that members of ISA seek.

“I think that the idea of creating our own union would give us an ability to specifically address concerns that arise for Indigenous students versus being a part of a larger union … it will give us an opportunity to speak directly to Indigenous issues,” George said.

The Cord reached out to UW regarding ISA’s statement. Nick Manning, associate vice-president: communication, provided an email statement as follows:

“The University of Waterloo is committed to developing an Indigenization strategy in collaboration with a wide range of campus partners. We are extremely grateful for the hard work and deep commitment the Indigenous Students’ Association is bringing to our efforts to Indigenize this University. Our commitment to Indigenization is unshakeable.”

This article was updated on May 7, 2018. In a previous version, The Cord attributed an incorrect quote to Nick Manning and the article has been rectified as such. The Cord apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.

 

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