In response to “Implicit Racism: The need for deep diversity at Brock University”

In response to Dr. Kitossa’s letter “Implicit Racism: The need for deep diversity at Brock University” dated March 22, 2016, we concur that there is indeed a problem of systemic racism at Brock University and, in fact, the wider Niagara community in general. We would like to examine three issues in particular that help to further illustrate Dr. Kittosa’s assertion that pervasive racism is alive and well in our community. We focus on anti-Indigenous racism through three points of discussion; the Haudenosaunee Deer Hunt at Short Hills Provincial Park, the CUPE 4207 vegan-only food policy, and Brock University’s recent de-funding of Indigenous Education.

By way of introduction, we are Jodielynn Harrison (settler, current Equity Officer for CUPE 4207, Representing Academic Workers at Brock University, and Teaching Assistant in multiple departments at Brock since 2006) and Celeste Smith (Haudenosaunee, Wolf Clan, Six Nations of the Grand River Territory, Political Science undergraduate student, Indigenous community organizer and advocate). We co-chair the Indigenous Solidarity Coalition @ Brock University, an open group of Indigenous and non-Indigenous workers, students and community members who stand together in solidarity alongside Indigenous communities. We support the spirit of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada and are committed to the understanding that reconciliation is a conscientious and active process (http://4207.cupe.ca/about-us/solidarity-action-campaigns/indigenous-solidarity-coalition/)

This year, the Indigenous Solidarity Coalition has organized and hosted many events at Brock, bringing Indigenous voices and issues to the forefront of campus life. These events have been a huge success with lots of great interest and support from CUPE 4207, as well as multiple academic departments and centres. While it has been a very successful year for the Indigenous Solidarity Coalition, we would be remiss to not identify the numerous challenges we have experienced that clearly illuminate the racism, anti-Indigenous sentiment and white-privilege that permeates Brock University and the wider Niagara community.

The Haudenosaunee Deer Hunt at Short Hills Provincial Park.
Haudenosaunee hunters from Six Nations of the Grand River have legal treaty rights to hunt at Short Hills Provincial Park located in St. Catharines, just a few kilometers from the Brock campus. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) has accommodated these treaty-guaranteed hunting rights. The six-day hunt coincides with the Haudenosaunee calendar of deer harvesting and provides much needed meat and skins for ceremony. However, what began as a way to provide food for the community during the winter, has turned into a struggle for food sovereignty and food security in Southern Ontario. Regardless of Haudenosaunee hunters’ inherent and treaty rights to hunt at Short Hills, approximately 25 local non-Aboriginal community members oppose the hunt. For the past 4 hunts, in addition to lobbying local government to try and stop the harvest, the anti-hunt protesters have put up a physical barricade blocking Haudenosaunee hunters from directly entering the provincial park. The anti-hunt blockade was supervised by the Ontario Provincial Police and the Niagara Regional Police Department. During the blockades, hunters’ vehicles were stalled while anti-hunt protesters surrounded hunters’ vehicles, aimed their flashlights into the faces of Haudenosaunee drivers, and their passengers, and called out various derogatory and, at times, outright racist statements.

Many Indigenous people have been traumatized by the atmosphere and attitudes set forth by this group both online and at the Short Hills. To Indigenous people, this issue is about so much more than deer; it is about access to land, cultural survival and food security. Indigenous peoples hunt to fill empty freezers, they hunt to teach their young men traditional values and keep them off the streets, and they hunt to keep that connection to the land that is essential to our existence as Onkwehonwe. The anti-hunt protesters have shown deep disrespect for Indigenous peoples’ worldview and they disregard the Indigenous right to hunt as stated in numerous treaties and agreements including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In response to this illegal settler blockade, a solidarity picket was established by Supporters of Haudenosaunee Right to Hunt. We encourage members of the Brock community to learn more about this critical social justice issue by visiting www.sixnationsrighttohunt.tumblr.com

The CUPE 4207 vegan-only food policy.
For the past three years, CUPE 4207 has had a vegan-only food policy. This means that all food and beverages purchased by the union were required to be vegan. With this policy in place, however, it became increasingly difficult to accommodate the diverse needs of the membership and those working closely with the local. Many members of CUPE 4207, as well as the wider Brock and Niagara community, expressed the belief that this policy was culturally discriminatory, that it created an exclusionary environment, and that it could possibly be considered a violation of human rights. The policy also served to create structural barriers for the Indigenous Solidarity Coalition as we were not allowed access to funding to provide cultural foods or beverages that were not vegan.

When the vegan-only food policy was challenged in January 2016 there was resistance from some members of the animal rights community who understood the vegan-only policy as a matter of social justice. However, from the perspective of the Indigenous Solidarity Coalition, this was understood as a continuation of colonial attempts to control Indigenous self-determination and food sovereignty. This became an emotionally charged point of contention for people on all sides of the issue. A working group was formed that included members from both the animal rights community and the Indigenous rights community. Together, in a spirit of collaborative dialogue for sharing and expanding our awareness of the social implications that food issues reveal, we developed a new inclusive food policy that considers both human and animal rights and created space for both vegan and non-vegan food options.

While we see this situation as a wonderful example of the positive possibilities that can exist for social change, we also put forward this example in order to illustrate the systemic racism that exists when one worldview is placed above another worldview. We argue that in order to support Indigenous justice, it is important to pay attention to the sentiments and environment that such policies can potentially create. Furthermore, if we do not work carefully together to dismantle white-privilege and create spaces for multiple worldviews, we perpetuate social hierarchies and reproduce social inequalities.

The de-funding of Indigenous Education at Brock University.
Just last week, a number of Indigenous instructors lost their jobs with the Tecumseh Centre for Aboriginal Research and Education, the only Indigenous Centre at Brock University. Despite calls for increased funding for Indigenous education, Indigenous instructors, and Indigenous content, and the growing trend to increase funding at other educational institutions across Canada, Brock has decided to cut back funding to the Tecumseh Centre. This move directly contradicts the educational goals of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC). As the Indigenous Solidarity Coalition @ Brock joins the student movement across Canada to mobilize and implement the TRC recommendations, Brock’s administration sees fit to cut back the meager offerings already in place. This incapacity to recognize the relevance of Indigenous issues in academia, as well as its significance in contemporary global concerns, speaks to an ongoing disconnect that seems to define the current culture at Brock. Since Brock does not even offer a major in Indigenous Studies, this attack on Indigenous education does not bode well as it leaves the university light-years behind. We ask, how can a university that does not support and fund Indigenous education, be considered an ally for Indigenous justice?

What do these examples teach us?
Perhaps more so than any other solidarity work we have undertaken, these examples teach us that anti-Indigenous sentiment is strong and continuing in our community. And why is that? Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Indigenous claims to sovereignty and self-determination are, at their heart, about disturbing the settler position of privilege which sits squarely at the core of settler identity. This can be very difficult for non-Indigenous peoples to wrap their heads around. It is especially challenging for individuals who already understand themselves as social justice advocates; whether that is in the context of animal rights or women’s rights.

Building on this, we must examine the recent organization of students and faculty around sexual violence on campus. This is an important issue across university and college campuses nationwide as educational institutions frequently protect professors considered valuable investments for the institution. This is a systemic issue where often-male professors or men in leadership positions are protected, while often-female students and workers continue to experience sexual violence in their workplace and place of learning.

We affirm calling Brock to task and support such necessary action on campus. What we question, however, is why there are so few allies when Indigenous rights come under attack. Where are the white, non-Indigenous allies when it comes to land defense, food sovereignty, and Indigenous education? Where is the support and mobilization in front of the tower for these Indigenous rights? Where is Brock administration, faculty, and the broader student body when decolonization is on the agenda and in the spotlight?

If we stop fighting for access to land and resources, if we stop fighting for the right to have access to our own cultural foods and ways of being, or if we stop fighting for funding and representation through education, we lose the larger fight! Each of these areas of sovereignty matters! We need to work together to learn how we are each responsible for ensuring justice for Indigenous Peoples because we are all treaty people with rights and responsibilities. Even when Indigenous worldviews collide with western worldviews – and especially when Indigenous justice pulls at the threads of white-privilege and systemic racism – we need to actively listen and support the work of Indigenous self-determination.

Moving forward together.
The three examples we have discussed in this letter cannot just be brushed off as racism because this is actually about institutionalized marginalization. Discrimination against Indigenous Peoples entwines with systemic, colonial, political, social and economic structures in Canada. This means that the issues are complex and must be relentlessly challenged. As such, we must keep working together to de-colonize our own minds and work toward new relationships.

As Canada finally begins the long road to fair treatment of Indigenous Peoples, it behooves us all to be aware of the issues and of our own prejudices on the matter. This will happen in many ways and, at Brock, the Indigenous Solidarity Coalition is creating spaces for students, workers, faculty and administrators to have multiple opportunities to contribute positively to the conversations. Providing a forum for Indigenous history, experiences, traditions and ways to be understood, the work has already begun to foster a deeper level of understanding, collaboration and solidarity with Indigenous communities.

As this school year comes to a close, and we reflect on all that has happened, we feel inspired for all the exciting opportunities in front of us. Connecting Brock and CUPE 4207 with Indigenous and non-indigenous community members concerned with taking up their responsibilities, is central to the work of the Indigenous Solidarity Coalition as we work toward decolonization and dismantling anti-Indigenous racism.

The Indigenous Solidarity Coalition @ Brock is dedicated to providing people in the Brock community the opportunity to engage in events that raise awareness and foster activism surrounding Indigenous issues. For further information please email IndSolidarityCoalition@gmail.com

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