Despite an extension of the nomination period, the 2011 UMSU general election, which was held between March 9 and 11, went ahead without an aboriginal student representative on the ballot.
According to the University of Manitoba Aboriginal Students Association (UMASA), the fact that nobody was willing to run hints at issues within the University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU), the University of Manitoba and Canada.
Seraph-Eden Boroditsky, who spoke on behalf of UMASA, says that many aboriginal students on campus feel a sense of apathy when it comes to politics in general, something she feels is strongly associated with a lack of positive political role models in the aboriginal community.
“There hasn’t been a really good track record of aboriginal people in politics in Canada in general; [ . . . ] there is some apathy in our group, due to band politics and the way our people are still treated in Canada by the government.”
Boroditsky said that this has a “residual effect” on the community and might explain part of the reason people were reluctant to come forward and run.
Another reason, as indicated by the UMASA, is the fact that it “is so difficult for aboriginal students to get into and stay in university that student politics isn’t the first thing on [aboriginal students’] minds.”
Boroditsky felt that UMSU needs to take this into consideration, not only during elections, but in all of UMSU’s dealings with the aboriginal community on campus.
“There is a small group of us that really champion [getting involved in student politics], but I don’t think that UMSU has really tried to make it more appealing to get a broader student base involved with them.”
Heather Laube, president of UMSU, said that her organization has been trying to communicate with student groups better, and that community representatives are an important part of this communication.
“I think the purpose of having community representatives [is] to ensure that groups who have been or continue to be underrepresented or marginalized on campus and in society have a voice on their university-wide representative decision making body [UMSU council].”
Laube added that “continuing and expanding upon the open dialogue between UMSU and the UMASA is necessary to improve this relationship in the future.”
An important part of this open dialogue, said Laube, is making sure that students with concerns approach UMSU so that the concerns can be addressed.
“We may not be aware of all issues as they arise, so it is very important for anyone who has concerns to bring forward their thoughts and suggestions to UMSU in order to work toward improvements and hopefully a resolution.”
Boroditsky also indicated that her community felt like UMSU did not do enough to inform aboriginal students on campus that an election was coming up, and that had they been informed better a candidate may have been found.
According to Laube, the “nomination process is the same and has the same methods of being communicated to all students, regardless of position.”
But she said that she would convey the UMASA’s concerns to the chief returning officer, who makes recommendations on how next year’s election could be carried out better.
Laube said that, since the position is now vacant, nominations for the aboriginal community representative will be opened on Oct. 1 and will close one week later. UMSU council will then hear presentations from each of the nominees and will appoint someone at the next meeting. Should no one run in October, nominations will again be opened on Nov. 1 and so on until the position is filled.
According to the UMASA, they plan to petition UMSU to suspend the bylaw pertaining to this process so that they can either keep the current rep in his position or appoint someone.