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STUSU Indigenous rep position created in colonial framework: students

Indigenous students say the Indigenous representative position on the St. Thomas University Students’ Union is set up in a colonial ...

Indigenous students say the Indigenous representative position on the St. Thomas University Students’ Union is set up in a colonial framework that doesn’t fit with their cultures or values.

The Indigenous representative position will be empty as of May 1, because no one ran for the position in the spring election — but not because of a lack of interest or political engagement.

“All the sudden there was this position and we needed to fill it,” said Shelley Augustine, a fourth-year student from Elispogtog First Nation.

“Our input would have been important because we would have put forth whatever we needed of that position and how we can fill that position in our way, not the colonial way of voting the right person in and running in the election.”

As a group, Indigenous students say they can help each other express ideas and pool their collective knowledge to make sure all voices are heard.

“As Indigenous students, we’re always expected to always have the right things to say, or have all the academic education to be able to express issues like this clearly, when we don’t. I’m still learning every day,” said Kyana Kingbird, a fourth-year student from Esgenoopetitj First Nation.

Creation of position

Philippe Ferland, outgoing STUSU president, created the position last year when he was the vice-president administration, along with three other minority representative positions.

“We felt the current council structure wasn’t good enough for getting those sort of minority voices on the table, so that’s where the idea sort of came from,” Ferland said.

Ferland said he now knows the dialogue between the council and Indigenous students about the idea of the position wasn’t enough consultation.

“There was no, kind of like, more in-depth discussion of what that would look like, whether that would fit Indigenous culture, so that was a mistake on my part because I approached the minority reps in a sort of blanket fashion. Like this is the only way of doing things is to create one rep for these different groups without necessarily understanding the fact that maybe different groups would have to be represented in different ways.”

The first person to hold the position was Keyaira Gruben, who was elected in fall byelection in 2016. Gruben was impeached for not attending the weekly meetings. Ferland said STUSU takes some blame for that, because he feels they do not properly inform candidates on the expectations of positions before they run.

“I know when we advertise for positions to be run we just kinda put the name and we don’t really explain what they all do. And so, elaborating on that or maybe putting a more extensive ad campaign beforehand, just so that there’s more information on what these positions are, what they do, what the responsibilities are before people actually decide on whether they should run or not,” he said.

Gruben said she ran because she saw a flyer on campus and thought it was a good opportunity to share her voice, but the responsibilities of the position were not explained to her.

“I didn’t even know there was a STUSU Facebook group. I was added in late and when I was added in I realized I had missed meetings.”

Gruben found she had missed too many meetings and was being removed.

“I thought if this is going to be that demanding then I don’t want any part of this anyway.”

Gruben graduated from STU in 2017 with her bachelor of arts. She was recently elected as a councillor for Kingsclear First Nation, is pursuing another degree in the Mi’kmaq Wolastoqiyik bachelor of social work and on maternity leave from her position as a resource development consultation coordinator for the provincial government.

The position was not filled in the 2017 spring election, nor in the 2017 fall byelection. Alexa Metallic was appointed to the position for the 2017-18 academic year. No one ran for the position in the 2018 spring election.

A non-competitive community

The elected position may also make Indigenous students feel they have to compete against each other, said Augustine.

“We don’t come from a world of competitiveness between one another,” she said.

Kingbird agreed.

“Why try to compete and possibly make bad blood between us if one person really wants it? It’s them stepping up to that task and saying, ‘Yeah I’m going to take on this task.’ It’s knowing that if someone else wanted it I’m always there to help them if they need advice or anything, because that’s really common among Indigenous students is turning to each other if you have advice or some insight that you could provide to someone,” Kingbird said.

When Gruben ran for the position in Sept. 2016 she had heard a friend had wanted to run, and originally went to withdraw her name, only to find her friend had withdrawn his name already.

“I don’t want to compete against somebody that I respect and that I believe also has good ideas. Why couldn’t we both be the rep, why couldn’t we rotate?” Gruben said.

Augustine also pointed out because of the closeness of their community, individuals consider the skills others would bring to the role and benefit they would get from the experience.

Collective dialogue and decision-making is a part of Indigenous cultures Indigenous students say they feel is more inclusive.

“As a collective we’re more able to come up with ideas or come across concepts. Where I might be floundering on how to explain myself or express myself someone else could pick it up easily and bounce ideas off of each other. I feel more comfortable where I’m in a collective where everyone is able to talk together, as opposed to just me by myself trying to speak on a subject that affects everybody,” Kingbird said.

Individual instead of inclusive

Another concern students have with the position is it is too individualistic.

In his discussions with current Indigenous representative Alexa Metallic, Ferland said, “her biggest concern was the fact that one Indigenous student isn’t the expert on all things Indigenous, and that was something she felt the position itself tries to imply by being the only position or the only individual who can take up that position.”

Kingbird said one idea on how to make Indigenous representation on STUSU more inclusive to Indigenous culture is to have a council that meets to discuss ideas and have a rotation of council members who attend the weekly STUSU meetings.

Kingbird said this would also make the position of representative more attractive to Indigenous students because it would reduce the work placed on each individual.

“Indigenous students, a lot of them come from places of poverty where you have to work or you have to do other things [while going to school]. A lot of women I know that go to campus here do have kids as well, so just taking any extra work is always kind of daunting,” Kingbird said.

A framework based on a council rather than an individual would alleviate concerns some students may have about the workload or their availability to attend meetings by sharing the work and at the same time including all perspectives.

Gruben agreed, adding that different voices are valid and important.

“If more than one person wanted to show up … I think that should be validated because the diversity amongst First Nations students themselves and our lived experiences are also something that should be taken into consideration … it takes away from the uniqueness of everybody backgrounds.”

Sticking to tradition

Augustine said the way the position currently exists, Indigenous students feel they are forced to conform to colonial ideas of representation they may not agree with.

“We don’t really want to adapt to that idea. We want to stick to our own traditions and how we do things.”

She said this builds a wall between the two groups and creates resistance.

“We understand that, yeah, thank you for creating the position for an Aboriginal representative but we need to do it our way, not the colonialized way,” Augustine said.

“We are willing to accommodate the new position that we need to fill, but we need to accommodate according to us.”

Gruben said discussions like this are maybe what was needed to shed light on the colonial structure of STUSU.

“We need to do better to really continue the dialogue other than when there’s just an event going on,” she said.

“There needs to be real respect of our traditional nationhood and our traditional ways of doing things, because if that’s not there then this whole talk of reconciliation, it’s not real.”

The future of Indigenous representation on STUSU

There hasn’t been any official discussion of changes to be made to Indigenous representation on the students’ union.

Incoming president Brianna Workman said she would like to see how to make STUSU more accessible to Indigenous students.

“I think the first step for me in my new role will be taking time to connect with as many people in the Indigenous community as I can, listen to what they think would be the best way to more forward and then for me and my team to provide whatever support we can to Indigenous students, in order to make necessary improvements,” Workman said.

“It will be essential for us to consult and work with Indigenous students once they’re back on campus in September, about the Indigenous representative position on the SRC, in order to gauge interest and provide support to anyone who may be interested in taking on the role.”

Kingbird said she’s hopeful for the future of representation on the Union, as she feels there has been more communication this year.

“It definitely probably would have been a lot smoother in transitioning Indigenous student leadership in if there was more Indigenous consultation right from the get go, as opposed to assuming that you know what’s best for another group of people,” she said.

“It makes sense if right from the bat it’s not completely perfect. There’s always room to improve and the fact that people are taking the opportunity to try to improve how it’s run [is encouraging].”

STUSU Briefs: April 5, 2018

New NBSA executive director  St. Thomas University Students’ Union vice-president education Brianna Workman announced Emily Blue is the new executive director ...

New NBSA executive director 

St. Thomas University Students’ Union vice-president education Brianna Workman announced Emily Blue is the new executive director for the New Brunswick Student Alliance. 

Blue is a fifth-year communications and public policy student at STU.

“She’s worked in P.E.I. and the legislature there, as well as with [Fredericton MP] Matt DeCourcey. [She] certainly has some experience interacting with politicians and policy,” said Workman. “[She] will be new to the NBSA, but isn’t new to that sphere. [I’m] very, very excited to work with Emily in the future.”

Blue begins her role on May 1. She will be taking over from the current acting executive director of the NBSA, Sam Titus. 

Resignation letters

Three St. Thomas University’s Students’ Union representatives resigned from their positions.

Rebecca Kingston, now former social inclusion representative, stated in her resignation letter that the decision to resign was not an easy one.

“I truly believe it is the best decision for me at this time. I will remember my two terms on [Student Representative Council] as social inclusion representative fondly, made especially so by having the opportunity to work with bright, driven, lovely folks such as yourselves,” said Kingston.

Robyn Metcalfe resigned from her at-large representative position. 

“I greatly enjoyed holding this position and look forward to what the future will bring,” Metcalfe said.

Hailey Frenette, Holy Cross House representative, also resigned.

Kingston, Metcalfe and Frenette all resigned to apply for employment positions with STUSU. The constitution states that representatives must resign when applying for employment positions with STUSU.

STUSU budget tabled

St. Thomas University Students’ Union vice-president administration Matt LeBlanc shared the details of the proposed STUSU operating budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

He said the total budget has increased by three per cent, inflation accounting for 2.2 per cent.

Finances for communications has gone up to $1,273 to run the website and purchase Adobe Creative Cloud for the communications coordinator.

The executive position salaries have also increased. Executives are now paid minimum wage. The STUSU president salary is $10,800; vice-president administration, vice-president education and vice-president student life are all $5,400.

STUSU’s general manager salary has increased to $50,406.77.

As for summer employees, the budget has increased to $16,200 and the hours have increased as well.

Councillor attendance wages are being proposed in the budget, allocating a total of $1,800 to the councillors that attend regularly. This would give a maximum of $100 to each of the 18 councillor members.

“Attendance has been an issue this year … it’s just a way to kind of nudge members to be more present,” said LeBlanc.

The budget for campaigns has increased to $1,375.38, in anticipation of the upcoming provincial election, as well as the Get Out the Vote campaign on campus.

Voting on the budget was tabled until the next meeting on April 12. 

Sexual violence report 

A report on the status of sexual violence on university and college campuses in Canada will be released on April 23.

It’s comprised of submissions by student organizations across the country. St. Thomas University Students’ Union vice-president education Brianna Workman collaborated with Sam Titus, acting executive director of the NBSA, on their submission to the project.

The Council of Alberta University Students, Students Nova Scotia, Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance, Alliance of BC Students, Union Étudiante de Quebec, University of Prince Edward Island Student Union and College Students Alliance contributed to the report. These student organizations shared how they’re advocating, as well as the status on sexual violence in their respective provinces.

The Canadian Alliance of Student Associations also has its own section, detailing advocacy and the status of sexual violence on campuses on a federal level.

“There’s lots of student groups across the country that are doing a lot of really great work on sexual violence and advocating on that issue,” said Workman.

Committee Operations Policy amendments 

Several amendments to the Students’ Representative Council’s Committee Operations Policy were brought forward by STUSU president Philippe Ferland, vice-president student life Jimy Beltran and at-large representative Nicholas Decarie.

STUSU unanimously approved amendments redefining what the members relation committee does.

The reworded sections state, “The committee shall promote policies, initiatives and awareness of the Union to the student body through means which it sees fit within the St. Thomas University community,” and, “The committee shall also act as a liaison between students, the SRC and the Union, to develop initiatives and support the creation and implementation of other initiatives on campus that engage students.”

A new part of the policy was also adopted to promote student engagement on committees. The new policy states STUSU will hold a committees fair at least once a year to showcase the committees operated by STUSU. It passed unanimously as well.

The sexual assault prevention committee and mental health committee were formally established as a part of the SRC as well.

Incorporating the Indigenous reconciliation committee as part of the SRC was tabled to the April 12 meeting, so STUSU could consult with Indigenous students and leaders on campus and seek their approval and consent before adopting the new section.

Sean Kenney’s resignation 

Some council members were confused and disappointed with the way former at-large representative Sean Kenney’s resignation was handled.

Kenney officially resigned from his position at the March 15 STUSU meeting, pending impeachment.

Fellow at-large representative Nicholas Decarie said he found the resignation process confusing.

“I regret accepting the reasoning I was provided with [that allowed Kenney to resign, rather than be impeached],” Decarie said.

Kingston said she was hurt by Kenney’s conduct during the meetings.

“As a woman, and as someone who represented minorities on council, I was extremely disappointed — putting it lightly — with Sean’s conduct,” Kingston said.

Ferland said STUSU could have gotten into legal trouble if they had impeached Kenney.

“There was an incident and the school contacted us, and me and [associate vice-president of enrolment management] Scott Duguay had a discussion … In a professional environment, in an organization such as the STUSU or any other employment situations, if someone is resigning, you can’t hold them hostage for the impeachment,” Ferland said.

“SRC is not a court room … If we did try that, there would be opportunities for legal troubles as well. However, that being said, I don’t think anything Sean Kenney has done has been in any way acceptable.”

Current STUSU vice-president education and incoming president Brianna Workman said a clarification on voting on letters of resignation can and will be fixed during the summer.

Fine Arts department presents Season of Loves

St. Thomas University’s Fine Arts department hosted Season of Loves, a Fine Arts showcase, on April 9. The showcase was a ...

St. Thomas University’s Fine Arts department hosted Season of Loves, a Fine Arts showcase, on April 9.

The showcase was a collaboration between different performance classes in the Fine Arts department, such as STU singers and dance technique.

The idea for the performance came about when the professors of these courses realized their students were enrolled in multiple courses, and there would be difficulty scheduling the end of term shows separately.

“When we discovered that we had students in both classes and that the presentation would be on the same day but in different locations, we thought that rather than make this difficult for the students, why don’t we combine efforts and do a combined performance?” said Ross Simonds, instructor of STU singers.

Ross Simonds, instructor of STU Singers, said that the professors of the Fine Arts department put their heads together to come up with a unique show. (William Cumming/AQ)

The collaboration between the classes allowed the professors to bring new aspects to their traditional end-of-term performances.

“We put our minds together and started to think of what are other kinds of things we could do in the performance itself,” said Simonds.

The performance included contributions from STU’s musical theatre class, and it’s chamber ensemble class.

Martin Kutnowski, director of Fine Arts, said the ensemble show is representative of the university’s Fine Arts program.

“Our Fine Arts program is different from other environments where students study the kinds of things we offer in the sense that it is a lot more integrated,” said Kutnowski. “You can go to a school and do visual arts, or you can go study music in a conservatory. But even if you study music in a conservatory, you will have the class of the composers, the performers and the conductors. You have these highly specialized compartments.”

The concert brought together students from multiple fine arts classes, such as STU singers and Chamber Music. (William Cumming/AQ)

“Our program functions in exactly in the opposite way. Many of the students in [chamber music] are also in STU singers, and many of the students in both of those classes are also doing musical theatre. I think it’s a wonderful thing that exists in the context of a liberal arts university. The concert is a little bit of a showcase of that.”

Another twist on the show is that it put many of its performers in positions they are novices at. Kutnowski played the bass during the show, an instrument he considers himself a beginner at, while STU student Celeste Wikkerink conducted Sakura, one of the songs performed by STU singers. Wikkerink said she has only conducted once before at the chamber ensemble’s concert in December.

“It was a steep learning curve for me to learn how to conduct several musicians, but it was a very rewarding experience,” said Wikkerink.


Commentary: A farewell to STU

This is it for me, my final “See y’all later.” I’m graduating in May and I have no clue where ...

This is it for me, my final “See y’all later.” I’m graduating in May and I have no clue where I’ll end up after I’m officially done here.

There’s a lot I wish I did through my years at St. Thomas University. I wish I socialized more, took more art classes, didn’t get involved in any form of political science course and applied to more professional jobs.

I don’t regret taking journalism. It’s the most hands-on degree you can get at STU. What really drew me in was the cameras and tech side of it. The writing and talking to strangers was less than appealing. I’ve learned a lot and I’ve met a lot of people. I think it helped me with my problems talking to strangers — a little bit. Maybe 10 per cent max.

While going to school you never really think about what you’re going to do afterwards. Well, you do, but not seriously. You have plans you’ve made but those can change in an instant and sometimes they just fall apart.

Some people get so comfy in the school system that they become full-time students, never really graduating, just staying where they are because they’re afraid to leave. I can understand the appeal in it, but it isn’t ideal.

You go to school to graduate at some point and start your life. School isn’t there to help you avoid reality. I couldn’t wait to leave when I was in my second year, but now I get how terrifying the real world can be.

I have nothing lined up, nothing waiting for me when I’m done, no one racing to have me in their work force. What school doesn’t prepare you for is the work you’ll have to put in to find something for yourself. Only a lucky few get something right out of university, and good for them, but you shouldn’t be betting on it.

Universities sometimes put students in a sort of bubble where their perception of the outside world becomes skewed. Everything won’t always work out and sometimes you have to take what you can get.

I’ll admit I’m scared and stressed, but I know it’s up to me to decide whether or not it will work out. I don’t have high hopes finding something in my field, especially in New Brunswick, but I can’t get too discouraged yet.

I’m sure I’ll find something, just like everyone else graduating with me or after me. Never be afraid to graduate because you won’t be doing yourself any justice by getting stuck. Nothing lasts forever, it all ends eventually, but as my education comes to an end, at least I know my life is just beginning.

Don’t get stuck. Keep moving.

Sharing the wealth that is water in Honduras

Think about how much water you use everyday. You use water to shower, brush your teeth, wash your hands and, ...

Think about how much water you use everyday.

You use water to shower, brush your teeth, wash your hands and, more importantly, to stay hydrated.

But you may not realize how other communities around the world do not have the same access to water.

The difference is shocking.

For communities in Honduras, most people don’t have easy access to water. Many people must walk to the nearest water source and carry 40-pound water jugs to their homes just to have water to use.

To aid in this crisis, St. Thomas University’s Global Brigades will be travelling to Honduras on April 30 to build a clean water system to help communities who lack the resources and empowerment to do it themselves.

Global Brigades not only goes into a community to fix something, but to work with the people living there until they can sustain and function on their own.

Robyn Metcalfe and Chelsea Connell, third-year students, are coordinating the trip.

“I would definitely recommend people get involved with the organization whether or not they attend the trip. However, the trip makes it that much more fantastic,” Metcalfe says. “But working with the organization is very beneficial as well.”

To help volunteers get there this year, each person going on the trip had to raise at least $500.

Through 50/50 draws, trivia nights, coat checks at the STU Winter Gala, leaf raking, bake sales and sponsorships, the team has well surpassed it’s goal to pay for the eight volunteers.

They have raised $7,000 so far and plan to continue fundraising until they leave.

A basket is currently being raffled off made up of local items and goods, including goods from the Fredericton Farmers’ Market.

“It has really been great to see the market so welcoming and so open and willing to donate items,” Metcalfe says.

In Honduras, the group will be working with community members to find solutions that best fit their community on how to get water efficiently.

“We talk about what the system is going to do for them, we talk about what they can do, and we talk about their culture and what they are doing with water right now,” Metcalfe says.

“A clean water system really changes everything. It changes lives … because you need water to do everything, like cooking, cleaning and drinking.”

Countries like Honduras are considered underdeveloped but Metcalfe and Connell want to change how people view them.

“I just want people to realize in the STU community that water is not that easy coming and we have the ability to just go and fill up our water bottles anywhere and that we don’t think twice about it,” Metcalfe says.

Their goal is to not only help communities in Honduras, but to educate the STU community about how water is a privilege.

“It is a resource that is too often taken for granted,” Connell says.

She also says STU’s Global Brigades team is passionate about exploring global citizenship, advocating for sustainable development and reducing social inequalities.

Metcalfe says she is now conscientious when filling up her water bottle or taking a shower.

“Water doesn’t come easily to a lot of people in the world and it is really unfair because we all need water to survive.”

Education scholarship created in memory of Anne-Marie Eagles

A new scholarship has been created in Anne-Marie Eagles’ memory. Eagles, the late wife of St. Thomas University athletics director Mike ...

A new scholarship has been created in Anne-Marie Eagles’ memory.

Eagles, the late wife of St. Thomas University athletics director Mike Eagles, worked as a teacher and guidance counsellor before retiring. She died of cancer on March 28.

Eagles’ family created the scholarship in her name for students hoping to pursue a career in education.

Jodi Misheal, STU’s interim vice-president advancement and alumni relations, said the scholarship was Eagles’ idea.

“[Mike] contacted us and asked if we could set this up. This was the family’s wish. They wanted to establish a scholarship for a student wanting to be a teacher, as she was,” said Misheal.

The scholarship will be awarded annually to a student from the Fredericton area going into the education program, beginning September 2018.

The scholarship is funded through donations. It’s endowed, meaning the money collected is invested, and the scholarship comes from the interest earned. The goal was to raise at least $20,000. As of April 6, $22,000 from over 200 donors had been collected.

Misheal is impressed with the influx of donations and said it proves how many people were touched by Eagles.

“It’s extraordinary considering we had a four-day holiday weekend in the middle of that. I think it’s testament to the high regard which Anne-Marie was held as a teacher and educator and member of the community,” said Misheal.

Eagles worked at STU for the 2010-11 academic year with the program Learning for Success program, which helped students who didn’t have the 70 per cent average requirement but were suggested by their high schools as potential university students. 

STU registrar Karen Preston said Eagles worked tirelessly with students to help them succeed.

“I believe this scholarship is a wonderful way to recognize Anne-Marie’s commitment to students in the public-school system as their teacher and guidance counsellor and for the wonderful work she did while at STU,” Preston said in an email. 

Eagles was well known in Fredericton and on campus for her support of STU Athletics.

“She apparently was very, very well known in the community and attended many of the sporting events and was always a big cheerleader for all things St. Thomas,” said Misheal. 

Donations can be made online or by cheque directly to the Office of Advancement on the fourth floor of Margaret Norrie McCain Hall. Donations are also accepted at the J.B. O’Keefe Gym.