Updated with comments from UMSU president Jakob Sanderson.
A group within the Canadian Federation of Students has condemned the U of M for what it calls anti-Indigenous racism within the university community.
“From the utter disregard and disdain of the only Indigenous administrator, to the blatant disrespect for the safety and security of Indigenous students, it is no secret that the University of Manitoba does not give concern to issues that affect Indigenous people who are working for or enrolled in the institution,” read a public statement released by the Circle of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.
The release was signed by the the group’s chairperson, Shanese Anne Steele, and national executive representative, Chance Paupanakis.
The statement said vice-provost Indigenous engagement Lynn Lavallée requested and was denied a meeting with the U of M’s presidential executive team on behalf of the U of M Indigenous Students’ Association (UMISA) to discuss instances of anti-Indigenous racism on campus — namely, an experience in which a student enrolled in a philosophy course endured a racist discussion in the class.
“It should never be this hard to contact the school president and to have a sit-down with the president and discuss something as important as anti-Indigenous racism, and other forms of racism as well,” Paupanakis said.
“That is so anti-democratic of a process. You know, we should be able to schedule a meeting and within the next couple of days, have a good sit-down with the president, and be able to voice our concerns, but that hasn’t been the case.”
U of M spokesperson John Danakas would neither confirm nor deny whether the presidential executive team actually turned Lavallée away.
“What’s critical is what are the values, the intentions and the actions that follow,” Danakas said.
“And there’s a commitment on the part of the executive team to hear directly from Indigenous students. And the vice provost and the provost are working together to make that happen.”
Danakas added that the university was “committed to creating pathways to Indigenous achievement” and said the university has proved this commitment.
“That commitment has been demonstrated through the mission statement and the strategic plan, which states that the core priorities of the university are uniquely strengthened by Indigenous knowledge and perspectives.”
The federation’s statement suggested UMISA will explore securing further autonomy from the university as a student group.
“I can say though that this is something that we’ve been talking about for years, and that I think that this year’s executive is ready to go ahead with that,” Paupanakis said.
He also claimed an attempt was made by UMISA to meet with UMSU president Jakob Sanderson on the issue last week, but the meeting was ultimately cancelled after concerns with timing came up.
“When it comes to talking about something so important as basically Indigenous sovereignty, we don’t want to meet for just half an hour,” said Paupanakis.
“This is something that takes if not hours, but days of discussion, potentially weeks and months of discussion, because this is a huge step.”
Sanderson claimed the cancelled meeting — which he said concerned community group funding, not racism on campus — has since been held. He also said the only time UMISA raised concerns of anti-Indigenous racism a meeting was held that same day.
“I continue to be open to meeting with them on this issue as we work towards creating a safer campus,” he said. “Myself and UMSU are steadfastly committed to decolonizing our campus and wish to work with all stakeholders to do so.”