UMISA says executive ‘co-opted’ Indigenous initiatives

Returning UMSU president refutes claims

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Several members of the University of Manitoba Indigenous Students’ Association (UMISA) have accused the recently-elected Your UMSU slate of “co-opting” Indigenous initiatives without giving proper credit to the Indigenous students and faculty who founded them.

Your UMSU swept the 2019 UMSU general elections and was led by current UMSU president Jakob Sanderson.

UMISA co-president Alannah Mckay, who ran for an executive position on opposing slate Exist, said Sanderson’s campaign promise to push for further implementation of Indigenous languages should have included recognition of similar initiatives already in place — particularly the Canadian Federation of Students’ ReconciliAction campaign, which advocates for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation number 16, which urges “post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.”

“So many Indigenous students, not just from UMISA but outside, have advocated for Indigenous languages,” she said.

“And for somebody who has not bothered to come to one meeting at all, who is more than welcome — Indigenous students are more than welcome to join us in this movement — but to co-opt everything we’ve said and done for the past two years and pass it as their own, without giving any recognition to the students who have been working so hard, tirelessly, toward getting Indigenous languages here.”

Sanderson, who pointed out during the campaign that he is Métis, pushed back on these claims, acknowledging he had only been to the initial ReconciliAction launch, but had also never been “specifically invited,” and that he could have “also made the proactive effort.”

“In terms of the Indigenous language issue, yeah, certainly Indigenous leaders on campus and around the world have been doing a lot of excellent work on Indigenous languages,” he said.

“I’m not saying I’m the only person that’s ever come up with it,” he said, “but I certainly did come up with this by myself, in a meeting with our Indigenous representative and UMSU vice-president external, when we were brainstorming on Indigenous lobby priorities. This was an idea I suggested.”

Mckay also accused Sanderson of “coming to events just for the sole purpose of political gain,” a concern she said had been expressed by both Indigenous students and faculty on campus.

“It was seen like he passed these initiatives as his own during this election, and Jakob Sanderson, obviously, has never expressed wanting to take part in these initiatives, but then co-opting that as something new.”

Sanderson said the other Indigenous advocacy work he campaigned on, creating an Indigenous awareness month, included mentions of collaboration with Indigenous groups on campus.

“We had two primary policy planks that focused on Indigenous-specific issues — one of those was the Indigenous awareness month,” he said.

“Within that […] we were always quite clear that there’s a lot of work that’s done by UMISA, by other Indigenous student groups and by the Indigenous student centre already around Indigenous awareness month.

“Our role within that would just be to provide more funding, more resources, space and to hopefully help elevate what’s already being done by Indigenous leaders on campus, both students and non-students, to the wider university community.”

UMISA member Jack Theis said his concern is not that Sanderson included Indigenous initiatives in his campaign, but that he believes Sanderson did so without giving fair credit to the work already being done by Indigenous students.

“Of course he’s going to want to appeal to Indigenous students in the election, I get that,” he said.

“But the fact that he would say that, those words would be published the way they were on the [Your UMSU campaign] Instagram, and in other places, just without giving any credit to the Indigenous students who brought this to his attention in the first place […] is just absolutely ridiculous.”

When asked about her background as a member of Exist as a possible factor of bias, Mckay said her slate “never took any of our ongoing projects in our community groups and used it for political gain.”

“Everything [Your UMSU] based their slate off of came from community groups,” she said.

Mckay said in the future, she hopes the 2019-20 executive would work harder to fairly present the work done by the Indigenous campus community.

“When people co-opt the hard work a whole community has worked toward, it distorts the voices that were already working toward that.”