Members of the Canadian Federation of Students from across the country gathered in Ottawa last week for the federation’s yearly national general meeting (NGM).
The entire UMSU executive was in attendance, as well as international community representative Victoria Nwabuisi, Indigenous students’ representative and University of Manitoba Indigenous Students’ Association (UMISA) co-president Alicia Kubrakovich and science students’ association representative Brendan Scott. UMSU members in attendance represented the local 103 member group.
Despite the long-documented conflict between UMSU and the federation over the past few years — and the fact that the union’s executive recommended UMSU leave the federation in November 2018 — UMSU president Jakob Sanderson called the meeting “cordial.”
“I think we made some strong relationships there.”
Part of the Circle
It was Kubrakovich’s first time at a Canadian Federation of Students NGM, and along with serving as a provincial representative of the organizational and services development committee, also acted as a new member of the federation’s Circle of First Nations, Métis and Inuit students.
She called her time at the NGM a “learning experience.”
“Coming in as a fresh new face as a representative of the Indigenous community here on campus, I came in with an open mindset on what to expect,” she said.
The Circle brought forward and had two motions passed.
The first called on the federation to “take a public stance on the removal of mandatory Indigenous curriculums in high schools.”
The second called on the federation to “study the [missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two-spirit people] final report and find ways to implement its calls to justice within the CFS organization and its member locals.”
Kubrakovich added that she was “proud of everyone that was involved” in the passing of both motions.
UMSU presents two motions
Along with the two motions local 103 submitted to the NGM this year, the union also pulled a motion, before it came to a vote.
The motion would have recommended the federation adopt a proportional representation model, essentially allowing UMSU more voting power, something Sanderson said would reflect the amount of money UMSU contributes to the Canadian Federation of Students overall.
“This was just another motion that we submitted to try and make the Canadian Federation of Students a little bit more in line with the needs of UMSU as well as other large student unions,” he said.
“However, we felt that we had two other motions that were more pressing and more [accurately] reflected issues that our students had raised throughout the year, and frankly, the feedback we got on this motion was that it was very unlikely it would pass.”
The other motion that was put forward by local 103 was to separate provincial and national membership in the Canadian Federation of Students.
“This routed from a lot of discussion from the board where people, while acknowledging that there are other federal advocacy options out there, that’s more difficult to do provincially,” Sanderson said.
The motion was defeated, and Sanderson said he would continue to push for a student advocacy group not tied to the Canadian Federation of Students.
“I remain steadfast in that I think that it would be in all students in Manitoba’s benefit to start something in Manitoba that doesn’t tie to any other federation so that we can actually incorporate all student unions in Manitoba […] but I did acknowledge it might give us a head start if we were able to start with the infrastructure of [the Canadian Federation of Students] Manitoba, while making the change nationally,” he said.
The other motion brought forward by UMSU recommended the Canadian Federation of Students cover, according to Sanderson, “up to $10,000” of costs for member locals to bring member-at-large delegates who identify as racialized or Indigenous to “increase marginalized representation at the federation’s national level.”
The 2018-19 UMSU executive faced criticism after not attending the Grand Entry — which typically signifies the beginning of a powwow — held at last year’s annual general meeting.
During the discussion around this motion, Sanderson apologized to Indigenous and racialized UMSU members who felt they were not being fairly represented and emphasized the union’s dedication to implement positive change.
“I acknowledged that UMSU needs to do a lot more to ensure representation of [black, Indigenous and people of colour] students,” he said.
“And that this motion — whether or not it passed — should inspire UMSU, the [Canadian Federation of Students] and other student union leaders to think critically about the space we occupy, the potential we have to leverage our privilege for positive change and how we can better represent marginalized students and, more importantly, create space for those students to represent themselves with our support.”
This motion was defeated at the NGM but was referred to the federation’s national executive for review.
Sanderson said the defeat of both motions was disheartening.
“I think it was again disappointing to see motions that we think would benefit our students, and I think specifically that last motion, one that would really benefit students across the country, be turned down,” he said.
“So I wouldn’t say that our view of the federation has changed a lot since the last [meeting].”