Commentary  It’s Time for Indigenous Autonomy

An Indigenous Equity Fund is the Best Way Forward in Order to Protect Indigenous Student Organizations From SSMU's Domineering Nature

“Do the fucking dishes”. – Chelsea Vowel (qtd. in INDG 401, 2019)

If Allyship is doing the dishes, then SSMU has “forgotten” to turn on water to the house. Although there is no benchmark or final criterion for what is takes to be a full-fledged ally, there is certainly a clear standard where one fails to be an ally. In SSMU’s most recent transgression, where Vice-President (VP) Internal Sanchi Bhalla failed to send out a listserv which effectively disabled Indigenous student activist activities, they have more than satisfied this standard. Whether SSMU intentionally recants an email or not is wholly beside the point as the effect remains the same: Indigenous peoples were prevented in carrying out their critical labour. If anything, this scandal has shone a bright light on the lack of autonomy that Indigenous student groups, clubs, and organizations have on campus – how autonomous can one be if a single email can bring your whole organization to a standstill? In fact, I think I speak for many – I hope SSMU is included in the many – when I say it is appalling that one email can prevent some of the most vulnerable students on campus from operating. Whether they intentionally reneged on their mandate or forgot is beside the point.

As such, it is time for a change. I want to wholeheartedly believe that SSMU does not wish to stand against Indigenous students, so I, possibly naively, will venture to say SSMU will welcome any change to keep this from happening again as they have failed to be an ally. Considering the aforementioned, granting autonomy for Indigenous groups, clubs, and organizations should be the first objective of SSMU. As Indigenous students understand best what support mechanisms are necessary for an accessible academic and social environment for Indigenous students at McGill, it should go without saying that it is time for greater autonomy so as to prevent SSMU from unintentionally hindering Indigenous student’s pursuits. 

Greater fiscal autonomy through an Indigenous Equity Fund would be a critical step towards this autonomy. The Indigenous Equity Fund would serve three primary purposes. It would fund the activities of the SSMU Indigenous Affairs Committee and the salary of the Indigenous Affairs Commissioner; it would be used to finance projects that support Indigenous students at McGill, as deemed appropriate by Indigenous students, and Indigenous students only; and, finally, it would be used as a critical source of financial support for Indigenous undergraduate students at McGill. These three purposes would go towards efforts such as supporting Indigenous students who struggle to pay for groceries and rent. As this funding would be free from external influence of SSMU, it would allow Indigenous student groups to plan concrete and sequential mobilization strategies for activities and campaigns that would be hermetically sealed from every incoming SSMU executive body. It can be used to hire additional student-staff under the Indigenous Affairs portfolio, as well as to pay expenses associated with Indigenous student mobilization, including offering appropriate honorariums and gifts to Indigenous Knowledge Holders, Traditional Drumming Groups, Urban Indigenous Activists, and Indigenous professors. The equity fund, in tandem with being that critical first step in achieving the long overdue autonomy Indigenous students’ require, will also go to promote and support the well-being of Indigenous students on Indigenous students’ terms.

If SSMU wishes to stand in solidarity with Indigenous students, it is time they relinquish control over them.