New CSU Club Increases Indigenous Presence on Campus

The Indigenous Students Council calls for results, not reasons

  • A new CSU club, the Indigenous Students Council, is making its presence felt at Concordia by giving voice to disenfranchised Indigenous students and calling for real results, not boardroom objectives. Photo Joshua De Costa

A new CSU club, the Indigenous Students Council, is making its presence felt at Concordia by giving voice to disenfranchised Indigenous students and calling for real results, not boardroom objectives.

“We don’t have an outlet for a political voice on campus,” said Shiann Whitebean, founding member of the ISC.

Whitebean, who is also president of Concordia’s First Peoples Studies Member Association, said she met with Concordia President Alan Shepard in May, but many of the ideas they discussed still haven’t transformed into action.

“Reconciliation, Indigenous health, and support for Indigenous students on campus,” said Whitebean. “We’d like to see more progress in those areas.”

As an Indigenous student at Concordia herself, Whitebean found “a serious lack of Indigenous voice and support on campus,” but she praised the work of Concordia’s Aboriginal Student Resource Centre.

Although she will graduate in the spring, Whitebean is looking to continue supporting the group by stepping back into an advisory role. As yet, no such position exists and per the CSU’s mandate, only undergraduates can hold official positions, but Whitebean wants to alter that at the group’s first meeting Nov. 1.

Rami Yahia, CSU Internal Affairs Coordinator, confirmed that as long as the group’s executives are undergraduate students, the Indigenous Student Council group is free to have non-undergraduates fulfil advisory roles.

In addition to creating advisory roles for alumni and graduate students, Whitebean is pushing to open the group to all students by creating leadership roles for non-Indigenous undergraduates.

The group was originally intended to be run only by Indigenous students, said Whitebean, but as more Concordia students complete First Peoples studies, non-Indigenous students are learning more about Indigenous issues and want to become engaged.

“We want to open the group in that sense for anybody who wants to come into the fold,” she added. “And it’s a great time to go with the momentum.”

Today, Concordia is the only university in Quebec to offer a degree in First Peoples studies; four years ago, it became the first university in the province to offer such a program.

“There’s opportunity to continue building on that foundation,” said Whitebean, explaining the impetus behind forming the group. “I think the time is now with the right political atmosphere in Canada.”

Although not completely established just yet, the group has already made itself known on campus.

In Sept., Whitebean, along with the First Peoples Studies Member Association, organised the Orange Shirt Day campaign at Concordia to remember the experiences of former residential school students.

“We’re here to bring some of our presence to the campus straight away,” she said.

So far, the reception to the new club has been overwhelming, said Whitebean, and right now there are more interested students than there are positions available for them, but she welcomes the warm response.

“It takes more than just the effort of Indigenous students and faculty to make these things happen,” she said. “To make these things successful, it takes the involvement and support of everybody.”

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