Students respond to campus’ lack of action

Campus refuses to give solutions/Morgan Ortman

Since the revelation that George Elliott Clarke would not be giving the Woodrow Lloyd lecture for the Faculty of Arts, a number of developments have come to light. One student, Tracie Leost, sent a pointed letter to the president addressing her concerns with the handling of situation by campus administration. We have decided to print the letter in full as it was presented.

“Dear President and Vice-Chancellor Vianne Timmons, the Office of Indigenization, Paul Dederick and to whom else it may concern,

I am writing to you today to address my disappointment and concerns surrounding the George Elliot Clarke lecture and the universities silence and lack of action. I strongly believe that it is important for those involved in this incident to understand the trouble and hurt it has caused students. In light of the lack of action the university took, I am ashamed to say that I am a student here. I am embarrassed by how this academic body failed to handle this situation. I am disappointed that it took Clarke withdrawing from the lecture for this repulsive degradation to stop. Clarke should have never had the option to withdraw because the university should have cancelled his lecture. More importantly, he should have never been invited in the first place.

For those of you who do not know me, my Indian name is Ogitchida Ikwe (Warrior Woman) my English name is Tracie Leost and I am a social work student here at the University of Regina. I am a Métis woman from Treaty 1 Territory, the heart and homeland of the Métis Nation.  In 2018, I was the recipient of the Métis Youth Indspire Award and next month I will be inducted into the Order of Gabriel Dumont. Additionally, since 2015 I have been leading global conversation surrounding violence against women. I would like to point out that the platform I have built leading this conversation actively benefits this university. Over the last four years, I have become deeply involved in the Indigenous community here and have worked towards having a campus that is safe and supportive of Indigenous students. You can often find me at the Ta-Tawaw Student Centre or the SUNTEP library studying, interacting, helping and organizing events with my Indigenous peers. Dr. Timmons has written in support of my academic achievement and activism and can attest that I have embodied our motto “one who serves.” With that in mind, I hope you are not surprised that I am writing to each of you addressing my concerns.

I choose to use “our” and “we” because a piece of this academic body belongs to every student who goes here, myself included. Over the last 4 years, the University of Regina became my home, a place I was proud to call home. However, home has to be a place where we can feel safe. Welcoming an award-winning poet on campus who empathizes with a murderer no longer makes myself and others feel safe. Steven Kummerfield defended his actions by saying Pamela George deserved her brutal death because she was an Indian. I am an “Indian” like Pamela George, so are hundreds of other Indigenous students here. I wish you would imagine how we feel. Imagine how it feels having our school refuse to cancel a lecture from a poet who debated reading poetry from a white man who murdered an Indigenous woman, justified it by saying she deserved it because she was an Indian, only served three and a half years of his sentence, changed his name, moved to Mexico City and has the privilege of continuing his life while Pamela George’s was cut short. When you imagine that I hope it makes you feel sick because I am disgusted. Furthermore, I have a problem with the statement Paul Dederick released stating how academic freedom is welcome on campus so long as it does not “incite hate, discrimination or violence.” What you fail to realize, is welcoming a poet on campus who actively defends a man who murdered an Indigenous woman in this very city only perpetuates violence. I am horrified you felt that having this man on campus was more important than the safety of your Indigenous students, respecting the family of Pamela George and the larger Indigenous community this territory belongs too. I want to vomit just thinking about it. As an Indigenous woman, I have a better chance of being murdered than I do of successfully graduating from this school with my BSW. When you choose to stand with people like George Elliot Clarke and his relationship to Steven Kummerfield/Stephen Brown; you do not stand in solidarity with me, you stand with those who murder my people.

I worked with the office of Indigenization to develop the university’s commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation’s Calls to Action. I read the documents, I sat on the panels, I gave my insights and I fought for the best outcome for Indigenous students. I can assure you, the commitment to reconciliation I fought for was forgotten during this ordeal. Changing street names and doing land acknowledgements means nothing when our school fails to uphold the much-needed relationship with Indigenous peoples. Reconciliation does not exist without a relationship with Indigenous peoples. In light of the GEC lecture, this university has drastically impaired its relationship with Indigenous students and the larger community. It will take more than a released statement and an interview healing process to fix the damage caused by the university. I am glad you are willing to welcome in and hear the concerns of Elders, students, staff and community members; but know that alone is not enough. I hope the university rips apart its commitment to the TRC and starts over. It is time this school dedicates serious time, money and effort to ensure Indigenous students are safe and supported on campus because I can assure you they are not. If we can afford a million-dollar sign and to overpay high-level staff then you can afford to do better. There are no excuses when it comes to this.

The office of Indigenization watches students walk in and out of the Ta-Tawaw Student Centre every single day. You have made it clear that not once during this process have you stopped to think about those students, and how your poor choices degrade, dishonour and harm them. Your silence is mortifying. It is mortifying to think about all the times your staff came into the Ta-Tawaw Student Centre over lunch to talk with students, and then allowed this to occur. That deserves a better explanation than “we failed to balance Indigenization and academic freedom.” More importantly, Indigenous students and Pamela George’s family deserve a heartfelt apology over this betrayal. Pamela George is alumni to us, I cannot fathom how her own university allowed this injustice to occur. Furthermore, Dr. Timmons, I like to think we have created a little legacy here. I received the 2018 Métis Youth Indspire Award and you received the 2019 Indspire Education award. I wonder if at any other university, have two members received the highest honour bestowed upon Indigenous people two years in a row? I think that is a pretty big deal and makes our university look great. I also think that distinction comes with responsibility and pressure. The responsibility to do better and the pressure to always act in the best interests of our Nations. In light of this ordeal, our Nations have been failed; and we need to do better.

I am a first-generation university student; in the spring of 2021, I will become a first-generation university graduate. Walking in two worlds while navigating post-secondary has not been easy and breaking the barriers that have been historically stacked against my people has been very challenging. However, my ancestors resisted genocide so that I could succeed. Being here means that I will actively fight for what Indigenous people have always deserved. Even when that means denying an award-winning poet the opportunity to perpetuate violence in the spaces Indigenous students occupy.  As horrible as it feels, I refuse to be uncomfortable as an Indigenous student here; my Elders taught me better than that. So instead, I will make space. I will make space for me, for other students and for this institution to do better. I will hold you accountable for that.

I hope you break the silence, acknowledge your wrongdoing and start to do what is right for Indigenous students and this academic body.

Marsii for your time,

Ogitchida Ikwe
Tracie Leost

In an interview on Jan 13, Timmons said that the university was committed to reconciliation, pointing towards the campus’ support of an upcoming feast hosted at First Nations’ University of Canada.

Comments are closed.

More News