AMS fills first Indigenous Council position, giving hope for improved consultation

The Indigenous AMS Council seat, passed earlier this year, is a step forward in extending Indigenous student involvement in university governance.

Indigenous organizations such as the AMS Indigenous Committee have been burdened with consultation seeking what committee member Verukah Poirier-Jewell called in March called the “seal of approval.”

More recently, this was the case with the AMS Sustainability Plan, which committee members said was passed with “inappropriate” and “inconsiderate” consultation.

“Oftentimes we get documents later on with a few days’ notice when we should’ve been there at the beginning. It’s been really frustrating so hopefully with an Indigenous person there, they’ll come straight to us instead of it being an afterthought,” said Laura Beaudry, a second-year law student.

With the new Council seat, there is hope to make consultation more meaningful and less extractive.

The Indigenous Committee appointed Beaudry as the first person to fill the position. The committee decided to appoint a student rather than host an election due to the transition to online classes soon after the referendum had passed.

“I think it’ll be really beneficial for us because it’ll actually be a chance for everyone on the Council to meet with an Indigenous person or the group as a whole from the ground up when they start their consultation,” she said.

While some clubs and organizations on campus have approached the committee looking for approval for an already drafted plan, Ceilidh Smith, Indigenous Committee co-president, said honest consultation should look very different.

“Looking back on examples where [consultation] was done right, [one] is when a student-run organization or club has come to us [and] attended our meetings,” said Smith.

“ … Those thoughtful, intentional actions speak a lot in terms of how committed are you to this relationship? How reciprocal do you view this relationship? Is it just ‘we need you for the formality’ or is it ‘we want to form this long lasting long-term relationship that’s positive and not extractive’?”

The new Council seat opens up more opportunities for interactions between the Indigenous community and the larger student body at a policy-making platform where Indigenous representation is a crucial element.

Sheryl Lightfoot, an Indigenous scholar and senior advisor to the president on Indigenous affairs, explained the importance of listening to Indigenous peoples.

“Most important is listening and accepting answers, or sometimes, non-answers. Often, silence can mean ‘No,’ but it can also mean ‘Perhaps, but it’s not my priority right now,’” she said in an emailed statement.

She was glad with the Indigenous Committee’s existence and said the Indigenous Council seat could improve relations between the AMS and Indigenous groups.

“Indigenous students, staff and faculty at UBC are all constantly asked for their contributions and their service, and many are now stretched very thin, and all too often, far beyond their capacity, so it is important that everyone be sensitive to this additional burden,” said Lightfoot.

With Beaudry meeting with the other members of Council soon, the interactions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students at the Council level is something AMS president Cole Evans looks forward to.

“I think at the AMS we are always looking for ways [to] improve our engagement with Indigenous students and make sure we’re doing what we can to support Indigenous students on campus,” he said.

“And by adding a direct representation to Council, which is the highest decision making body in the AMS, will create a great opportunity for the Indigenous student who sits on Council to provide meaningful insights on not just Indigenous issues, but on all issues from the perspective of Indigenous students.”