Going beyond land acknowledgements

Five years after the publication of Concordia’s Indigenous Directions Action Plan, has our university really changed?

When Alicia Ibarra-Lemay, a Kanienʼkehá:ka and Chilean student who grew up near Kahnawà:ke, started at Concordia in 2018, she lost no time finding a community in her new university. Her sister, who started at Concordia before her, had prepped her: go to the Otsenhákta Student Center, talk to student advisors, and sign up for activities. 

In her First Peoples Studies (FPST) courses, she was happy to see Indigenous professors and staff. She remembers being excited to see similar representation in other courses outside her program. “It definitely wasn’t like that though,” she said.

With her minor in education, Ibarra-Lemay immediately felt a difference between her two programs. She explained that there was very little inclusion of Indigenous knowledges in her education classes, and she felt uncomfortable pointing this out. “I don’t want to raise my hand in case they call me out and then make me have to be the Indigenous representative,” she said. 

Ibarra-Lemay is not the only Indigenous student to feel this dichotomy within Concordia. Since the publication of the Indigenous Directions Action Plan in 2019, Indigenous faculty, staff, and students have been working hard to decolonize the university and make it a safer place for Indigenous students.

“Obviously some of this work is really long term,” said Manon Tremblay, Senior Director of Concordia’s Office of Indigenous Directions (OID) and Plains Cree from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. “It’s frustrating to us that things don’t move faster. We are facing systemic barriers in Canada’s post-secondary institutions, and they’re really hard to break down.”

Ibarra-Lemay is now a master’s student in the Individualized Program, a self-directed program in which students can stretch the limits of research practices. According to her, a lot of Indigenous students choose this program because it allows them to incorporate their community’s knowledge and ways in their studies. Ibarra-Lemay decided to take her research about storytelling and oral knowledges out of the classroom.

“When I’m presenting my thesis to my committee, I’m inviting them to my totà’s [grandma’s] home, around a fire and cooking them food,” she said. Her goal is to share the culture of oral storytelling, reciprocity, and the passing down of knowledge.

Despite this openness from her committee members, Ibarra-Lemay said she had to jump through a lot more hoops to get her methodology approved than other students. The inclusion of oral tradition in writing-based research settings was especially hard.

“Students are doing really creative things through the proposals, in the way that they present their thesis,” she said. “This is thanks to their committee members, their faculty that are helping do this, but not the program itself.”

Undoing expectations

When it came to integrating culture to university work, these challenges were not only felt by Ibarra-Lemay. Jared Gull, a Cree student from Waswanipi, was studying film at Concordia until recently. “I came [to Concordia] because it was the dream,” he said. “Then I got here, and it’s not what I imagined.”

Gull expected Concordia to be very inclusive, and while he praised the services offered by the Otsenhákta Student Center, his experience in his classes was very different. 

He recalled questions from his classmates about which race he was, and the discomfort of land acknowledgements, during which students and professors often looked straight at him. “I’m just sitting there thinking, I feel like I had caused this just by walking into the room,” he said.

“It kind of feels like I just existed as a person without any identity,” he said. “And I usually just try to take it on the chin and roll with the punches, crack a joke. But at some point, it just wears you down.”

Gull also got a lot of pushback when trying to make movies that showcased his culture and were entertaining. “The Cree don’t have those kinds of movies,” he said. “Everything is so documentary-focused. So when I go to make these movies, people are expecting me to be this depressed Native with all these stories about residential schools.”

He found his classmates and professors tried to politicize his stories in a way that he didn’t want them to be, and their feedback often made him uncomfortable. “People didn’t really see what I was doing. I had a teacher even say: ‘Oh, this is not the kind of Natives that I see on CBC,’” he recalled. “Sometimes, it just felt like I was talking to a wall, or I had to play to people’s expectations to be heard.”

Creating change 

Tremblay said she hears about these behaviours from professors and students far too often. “Ignorant comments, presenting things only from a Eurocentric perspective, situations where Indigenous contributions to the classroom are treated as if they’re inferior… We see this all the time,” she said.

This is not to say that nobody at Concordia is working towards change: the OID and other groups have put many measures in place to decolonize Concordia, such as the Indigenous learning series Pîkiskwêtân, or the recently-announced plan to decolonize the university’s curriculum. But change is slow to be felt throughout the university. 

“We have to start from somewhere,” said Allan Vicaire, Senior Advisor of the OID and Mi’kmaq from Listuguj. “[Concordia] is an institution that is colonial and in order to decolonize, it’s going to take another 50 years, right?”

The difficulties of changing an institution like Concordia are woven even in something as simple as its furniture. Catherine Richardson Kineweskwêw, director of the FPST program and member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia with Cree and Gwichʼin ancestry, shared that she often struggles to find a classroom where the desks are not nailed to the floor and can be moved into a circle, an important part of Indigenous pedagogy. 

“Circle teaching is paramount, and it has important implications such as the equality of the participants, the demand for respect, dignity, and collective care,” she said. “This Western worldview that you would sit in an amphitheater, and you look at the back of the head of the person in front of you, it doesn’t promote relationship building, or even care.”

Vicaire also emphasized the importance of visibility of Indigenous peoples on campus, something he said students have been asking for for a long time. “The symbolic things actually do matter,” he said. “But it can’t be just one area,” he added. “I’m hoping [such symbolic actions] will influence other ways of thinking of other art projects or other renovations that will include more indigeneity into the actual project.”

Cheyenne Henry, Manager of the Otsenhákta Student Centre and Anishinaabe from Roseau River First Nation, sees these projects as an opportunity to expand the services offered to Indigenous students. “That’s always great to have that representation, that recognition that we’re on Indigenous land,” she said. “Having those spaces, that’s important. And what we do in those spaces is also going to be important.”

One of the visibility actions outlined by the Action Plan is the land acknowledgements, which are becoming more and more common, but are not unanimously appreciated. “I find them kind of insulting,” Gull said, “just in that the acknowledgement is that the land has already been taken and they’re giving thanks for taking land.”

According to Tremblay, it is important to really take time to understand what the acknowledgement is about. “[People] read it and they can’t pronounce the words, they read it in a way that is very stilted,” she said. “It just has no meaning. It feels as if, okay, let’s get this stuff out of the way before we get down to the real business. So for me, if you’re not going to put your heart into it, then just don’t do it.”

Ibarra-Lemay pointed out that most of the actions to decolonize Concordia were led by Indigenous students, faculty and staff, which has led to burnout in the community. “We need to be the ones leading it, but we still need the support of non-Indigenous people to be able to do this,” she said.

Tremblay argued that more allyship would speed up the process of making Concordia a place of belonging for Indigenous students. “Although my office is tasked with overseeing the implementation of the Action Plan, it is not our responsibility to implement every recommendation,” she explained. “The whole university has to put their back into it. It is the affair of everybody in this university: faculty, staff, and students.”


Tuition hikes loom over Concordia’s Indigenous students

Around 30 per cent of Concordia’s Indigenous students are out-of-province. How will the tuition hikes affect the community?

During recent strikes, student advocates have brought to light the effect tuition hikes may have on Concordia’s student services, as the university loses out-of-province students and the income generated from their tuition. Indigenous faculty and staff fear a potential cut in the services offered to Indigenous students. 

“We believe that these tuition hikes are catastrophic,” said Manon Tremblay, Senior Director of the Office of Indigenous Directions (OID) and Plains Cree from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation. “And not just from an institutional budget standpoint. They’re catastrophic in terms of our ability to offer students a unique experience.”

While Concordia does not have specific data about Indigenous students, the OID estimates that about 30 per cent of them are out-of-province. 

“If we don’t get those numbers of students, then we’re going to have a small population,” said Allan Vicaire, Senior Advisor of the Office of Indigenous Directions and Mi’kmaq from Listuguj, Quebec. “It doesn’t enrich the campus and the community at Otsenhákta [Student Center]. I worry about that. I worry about the future of Indigenous education within Quebec.”

According to Vicaire, this diversity in students and experiences is crucial in the effort to decolonize Concordia and other anglophone universities in Quebec. 

“We’re attracting all these wonderful Indigenous youth, First Nations, Inuit and Métis youth, and that’s why this is able to progress,” he said. “So when we have those students coming out-of-province, they’re bringing a richness and pushing the agenda for the Indigenous Directions Action Plan.”

Tremblay fears the hikes will encourage Indigenous students to stay in their own province or study in other provinces instead. The announcement of the tuition hikes came right after universities in Ontario, including University of Toronto and University of Waterloo, announced that they will offer free tuition to Indigenous students from communities around their campuses, and in-province tuition rates for Indigenous students throughout Canada. 

Catherine Richardson Kineweskwêw, director of the First Peoples Studies program and member of the Métis Nation of British Columbia with Cree and Gwichʼin ancestry, said the language requirements accompanying the tuition hikes will create additional barriers for Indigenous students. 

“Why don’t we forefront Indigenous languages?” she said. “Quebec had two layers of colonization [French and English]. Whenever you impose a colonial European language, it’s always Indigenous people that suffer.”

Tremblay believes Indigenous students will not appreciate this obligation to learn French during their time at university. 

“Asking them to learn another colonial language, that’s not going to go down very well,” she said. “We are in a situation of catastrophic language loss for our own languages. Obviously people will counter by saying that if I have to put my back into learning another language, it’s going to be my own ancestral language, not another colonial one.”

The OID is working on scholarship offerings for out-of-province Indigenous students, but they still have little information in terms of what a post-tuition hike budget will look like. 

“The picture is still very unclear,” Tremblay said. “There’s going to be cuts, that’s obvious, and I think everybody knows that. Where those cuts are going to be, I don’t know.”

For Cheyenne Henry, manager of the Otsenhákta Student Centre and Anishinaabe from Roseau River First Nation, it is important that the university continues to focus on decolonization. 

“With the changes that are forthcoming, tuition increases and the potential reduction of out-of-province students to the institution, those are big things that are on the table now,” she said. “But despite that, there still needs to be the commitment to Indigenous students and indigenizing these spaces.”


Montreal turns orange on the third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Activists say there is still a lot to be done to decolonize our institutions.

Last Saturday, on Sept. 30, wave after wave of orange swept across the streets of Montreal, as a crowd gathered to celebrate the third National Day for Truth and Reconciliation. 

This day is one of commemoration for the Indigenous children who were taken away from their families to be sent to residential schools, many of which never came home. At the march on Saturday, Indigenous activists and allies honoured these children and called on governments and institutions to do more to decolonize their work. 

Kai and Mia Fischlin, two sisters of Inuvialuit and Dene descent, were present at the march. Mia was the first in her family to get involved in the activist movement and had invited Kai to join her at the march.

Kai is a Concordia student in biology, and Mia is an alumni who graduated in human relations. According to the former, it’s important for these marches to continue, year after year, especially with the continued discovery of unmarked graves throughout Canada. “And there’s still a lot to fix within the communities, the Indigenous communities all over Canada. I don’t think [the marches] are ever gonna stop until we see real change,” she said.

“Colonization didn’t happen long ago, and it’s still happening,” added Mia. “Me and my sister, we’re the first generation in our family to not go to the residential schools since it started. There’s just so much change that needs to happen, and it needs to come from everyone. It’s a lot on Indigenous people’s backs to be the only ones pushing forward, so we need everyone’s help.”

National Truth and Reconciliation Day was implemented by the federal government in 2021 as one of the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In response to these calls to action, Concordia University published its Indigenous Directions Action Plan in 2019. Manon Tremblay, senior director of Concordia’s Office of Indigenous Directions, is happy with the progress Concordia has made in the last four years, but believes there is still much to be done. “We can’t sit on our laurels,” she said. “We have to continue that momentum, and we have to be able to deliver on these recommendations and these promises.”

Concordia currently has 12 Indigenous faculty members and seven Indigenous staff members—including Tremblay, who is a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. Tremblay believes continuous action is necessary to decolonize Concordia and make it more than “inclusive.”

“Personally, I don’t like the word ‘inclusion,’” explained Tremblay. “I find that ‘inclusion’ is a word that basically says that it’s still their house. And we’re still guests in that house, and we still have to adhere to their rules. What we’re looking to do really is foster a sense of belonging.”

Brina Rosenberg and Meika Blayone, two friends who attended the march, believe that the educational sector plays a major role when it comes to leading the movement of decolonization. 

“Knowing that the research that you can do includes oral storytelling as a resource that counts is super important, and I feel like that’s missing in a lot of university courses,” said Rosenberg. “Especially in history, knowing that oral history is just as important as written history is extremely important.” 

Blayone, who is Metis from Saskatchewan, believes Indigenous realities are erased from educational institutions. According to her, language laws in Quebec make this even worse. “French is super important, but where’s the Indigenous languages? Why are we not learning those? Why are they not an official government language?” she asked. 

Kai and Mia Fischlin encouraged Concordia students to support Indigenous communities whenever and wherever they can, even if it just means sharing a post on social media. 

“And if you see some racism going on, don’t be afraid to call them out, cause it’s a lot for Indigenous people to always fight for themselves as well, and feel alone,” said Mia.

Protesters gather through the streets of Montreal for Truth and Reconciliation Day.
Photos by Marieke Glorieux-Stryckman / The Concordian
Features Student Life

Decolonization at Concordia: What is it, and how it is going?

National Truth and Reconciliation Day is right around the corner — let’s talk

For the second time since its establishment in 2021, Canadians will celebrate National Truth and Reconciliation Day on Sept. 30. This statutory holiday honours the survivors of residential schools as well as those who never returned from them. What better way to commemorate and learn from the past than to take some time to educate ourselves on Indigenous issues?

Like many students in Quebec, Kenny Gourdet, a black political science undergrad at Concordia, says she was taught the same “European explorers came to populate society” story over and over again. A prime example of colonialism is how history classes often glorify the arrival of Europeans to the Americas, where they would supposedly save Indigenous peoples by “civilizing” them.

When Gourdet started pursuing her minor in First Peoples Studies, she realized how colonialism had tainted her education. “I think through that minor, I’m starting to understand what decolonization means to me, and what I can do to actively be a part of decolonization,” she explains.

Manon Tremblay, Senior Director of Indigenous Directions at Concordia University, says, “I’ve always thought that if you get anything out of university, regardless of what you study, it is openness of mind.” 

Tremblay, who is also Plains Cree and a member of the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, explains the Office of Indigenous Directions came up with the Indigenous Directions Action Plan in 2019. This “blueprint” as she calls it outlines 40 recommendations to tackle reconciliation, indigenization and decolonization at Concordia. These recommendations include creating institutional protocols to better engage with Indigenous knowledge, encouraging the use of Indigenous languages at Concordia, increasing opportunities for Indigenous graduates and students, decolonizing the institution and curriculum, and more.

“Decolonization is not dismantling systems that work,” says Tremblay. “It’s basically looking at systems and at those parts that don’t work for Indigenous people and may constitute barriers to success.”

As Gourdet puts it, decolonization is the undoing of colonialism. For her, it starts by unlearning the aspects of her life that have been affected by it, whether it be her education or her perception of herself.

All hands on deck

“Decolonization belongs to everyone,” says Ezgi Ozyonum, a PhD candidate in education at Concordia. She is also a researcher and events coordinator at the Decolonial Perspectives and Practices Hub (DPPH).

Her colleague Sandra Mouafo, a sociology undergrad, describes the DPPH as an incubator for initiatives, activism and empowerment. Their team aims to amplify the voices of students whose perspectives are left out of conversations that pertain to their wellbeing and future. The DPPH works to bridge the gap between academia and different ethnic communities within the student body.

“Nobody is safe from oppression,” says Mouafo. “If tomorrow it’s your neighbour, the next day it’s you. You shouldn’t wait until the fire gets to your house before you start worrying about it.”

She adds that decolonization can be discussed from many standpoints, ranging from politics to academia to interpersonal relationships. According to her, these reflections should begin by asking ourselves: “How do we look at society from a different lens than colonialism?” 

Both Ozyonum and Mouafo strongly believe decolonization is plural, meaning it requires a plethora of diverse perspectives. They say understanding multiple viewpoints will help contribute to decentering dominant models and patterns of oppression.

Ozyonum likes to use the word “decolonizing” as a verb. For her, it’s an ongoing effort to challenge colonial engagement and systemic oppression in the world.

According to Mouafo, everyone is responsible for deconstructing colonial influences and holding themselves accountable, whether they are racialized or non-racialized bodies. 

“We are all here on one earth and we are responsible for the actions or the things that happened in the past,” says Ozyonum. “We are responsible to learn from history.”

Looking back at previous education

Gourdet realizes how strong a hold colonialism had on the predominantly white private high school she attended. “I never felt like the school I went to created a safe space for me and my diversity,” she admits.

At first, Gourdet didn’t think too much of her school’s pride in its founder, Wilfrid Laurier, but then she finally learned the truth behind Laurier’s involvement with Indigenous residential schools and anti-immigration policies through her political science classes. “His name was and is still plastered all across the school,” emphasizes Gourdet.

During her time there, Gourdet says the only effort to welcome diversity was the organization of a week-long event that superficially highlighted multiculturalism, “to show white kids diversity exists.” Other than that, Gourdet thinks the school’s promotion of diversity was shallow. “I felt like the school’s view on diversity was transmitted to the whole student body,” she said. 

Although oppression affects all marginalized communities, the main targets of colonialism in Canada are Indigenous peoples, as we stand on their lands. Concordia’s efforts to indigenize aim to bring Indigenous voices to the University’s administration and academia.

So how is Concordia doing?

“Education is key,” shares Tremblay. “You can go forth in your life after university and see systems a bit differently and have a better openness of spirit and of mind.” However, as Gourdet’s experience highlights, students can absorb colonialist mindsets when they are in colonialist environments.

Concordia’s first steps into decolonization date back to 1992, when the Otsenhákta Student Centre was established, which serves as a resource for First Nations, Inuit and Métis students. Concordia’s decolonization efforts are now primarily orchestrated by the Office of Indigenous Directions.

“I think we’ve made some really good progress,” says Tremblay. “It helps that we have the unwavering commitment of higher administration. They believe in this, and they want to see it happen.”

On Friday, Sept. 16, Concordia hosted a powwow, which Tremblay deems to have been quite a success. She says they aim to organize more Indigenous-themed activities to increase visibility, but also to educate. “Not everything about Indigenous people is oppression,” she states. “We have things to celebrate too.”

Otsenhákta Student Centre Pow Wow. KAITLYNN RODNEY/The Concordian

The University has also incorporated territorial acknowledgement to its decolonial practices, stating that “the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation is recognized as the custodians of the lands and waters on which we gather today. Tiohtià:ke/Montréal is historically known as a gathering place for many First Nations. Today, it is home to a diverse population of Indigenous and other peoples.”  

“I think Concordia is good at initiating and providing spaces,” says Ozyonum. She believes the only missing piece is communication. “In this part, the Hub has a role to play,” she adds, since the DPPH works to reform systemic injustices in higher education.

Among other events, Ozyonum often organizes syllabus deconstruction workshops, where students, teachers and administration members meet to carefully deconstruct colonial patterns in their syllabi. “They talk about the power dynamics and how to reimagine the classroom with this syllabus, because a syllabus for us is a tool,” explains Ozyonum.

Both Ozyonum and Mouafo agree that the process to decolonize classrooms will take time, effort, and a lot of important conversations. Looking at the different aspects of our lives with a critical eye is the foundation for decolonizing ourselves and our environments.

“The thing with decolonization is that it’s not simple,” shrugs Mouafo. “It is a tireless commitment.”

The Office for Indigenous Directions aims to decolonize curriculums by bringing in more Indigenous experts and perspectives. This allows them to explore ways of teaching that every student finds a benefit to, according to Tremblay.

As Tremblay explains, not all cultures that fit under the “Indigenous” umbrella term agree with what needs to be done. “There’s a constant need for engagement to make sure that we’re always moving in the right direction,” she says.

Decolonizing and indigenizing need to be done continuously. “It’s work that’s long,” says Tremblay. “We’re not always going to see the results right away.” That’s why the Office of Indigenous Directions is committed to reviewing their action plan regularly. Their latest update was in June 2021.

Although education is a good place to foster conversations on decolonization, Ozyonum affirms that “Decolonization should be happening on all levels, and in different places, so it shouldn’t only be happening in school.”

A path of stepping stones

Mouafo adds that decolonization shouldn’t stem from a virtuous and heroic place, but from a humble willingness to learn and to become better people. It is an individual effort as much as it is a collective effort.

Although decolonization seems like a huge challenge, the DPPH members encourage everyone to simply try. “Even mistakes can be our learning opportunities,” smiles Ozyonum. A variety of resources, webinars and workshops are offered by Concordia’s Indigenous Directions Learning Series Pîkiskwêtân (Cree for “let’s talk”).

Self-education outside academia can happen through books, movies, series, podcasts and more. Because decolonization is an increasingly hot topic, resources are becoming more and more accessible. The CBC podcast Telling our Twisted Histories, which addresses the erasure of Indigenous perspectives in Canadian history, is one of many examples. 

“There’s no right way of being decolonial,” says Mouafo. “It’s a colonial mindset to think there is one right way,” she laughs. 

As Ozyonum says, we are responsible for building our future — a future where we look at the world in an intersectional way and live in respectful dialogue.

“Have these conversations,” implores Mouafo. “And if you’re uncomfortable, that means you’re in the right place, because this conversation is not meant to be comfortable. It’s not meant to be easy, but it’s needed.”

Photos by Kaitlynn Rodney


Decolonizing Canadian journalism

How Canadian journalism fails missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit, and trans women

Gabby Petito’s case has received national spotlight in the United States, and deservedly so. It is important as a society to be aware of cases involving missing and murdered people.

However, her case has also received national spotlight in Canada, and this country has its own pressing issues with the news coverage of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, two-spirit, and trans women (MMIWGTSTW).

Indigenous women account for only 2 per cent of Canada’s population but are overrepresented as victims of physical and sexual violence and murder. In fact, Indigenous women aged 25–44 are “five times more likely to experience a violent death than any other [group of] Canadian women,” wrote researcher and community organizer Kristen Gilchrist-Salles in her research paper. Indigenous women and girls also represent 50 per cent of all sex trafficking victims in Canada. On top of this, there is a lack of statistics for Indigenous two-spirit and trans women, but that is another issue.

Despite these harrowing statistics, MMIWGTSTW receive disproportionately low news coverage in Canada compared to missing or murdered white women in terms of the amount and ways in which the coverage is formulated.. This speaks to how Canadian journalism fails Indigenous people and why the industry must be decolonized.

Unnewsworthy victims

Gilchrist’s 2010 study, “Newsworthy’ victims?,”  drew upon three cases each of missing and murdered Indigenous women and white women, and compared their coverage in Canadian news media.

In the sample of white women, they were referred to as victims 170 times on average, had 62 articles written on their cases on average, and the articles were an average of 713 words long.

Indigenous women were referred to as victims 27 times on average, had 18 articles written about their cases on average, and the articles were an average of 518 words long.

In addition, the articles that were written about Indigenous women tended to be hidden amongst advertisements and soft news.

The numbers for MMIWGTSTW are partly rooted in the searchlight phenomenon, where there is brief intensive coverage followed by a reporting void. This void exists because they are not newsworthy victims — they’re not white.

Anti-Indigenous framing

Dr. Yasmin Jiwani, a Communication Studies Professor at Concordia University, found in her 2008 study about gendered violence in Vancouver’s DTES that victims who were poor, sex workers, Indigenous, or some combination of the three were labeled by news media as ‘high-risk’ for experiencing violence.

This label implied that Indigenous women were experiencing violence because of their own ‘bad’ decisions, “rather than that they were put at risk by the social conditions and societal factors governing and shaping their lives,” wrote Dr. Jiwani in the study.

Conversely, Kwagu’ł scholar Dr. Sarah Hunt raises a point in an article she wrote for rabble, “Why are we so hesitant to name white male violence as a root cause, yet so comfortable naming all the ‘risk factors’ associated with the lives of Indigenous girls who have died? Why are we not looking more closely at the ‘risk factors’ that lead to violence in the lives of perpetrators?

According to the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, “negative sexist and racist representations of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA people are part of Canada’s colonial history.” Indigenous womanhood being conflated with sex work (which should not be taboo) creates a harmful stereotype, normalizing the physical and sexual violence against them.

In practice, this is what framing theory looks like: intentionally presenting Indigenous women as less newsworthy victims than white women in order to cause non-Indigenous readers to have a lack of empathy for them.

Calls to action

The first step to decolonizing Canadian journalism is following through with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) calls to action focusing on media and reconciliation. Calls to action 84-86 speak to the lack of Indigenous representation in the industry and its schools.

The specifics of this include, “ii. [i]ncreasing equitable access… to jobs, leadership positions, and professional development opportunities…” and, “iii. [providing] news coverage and online public information resources on issues of concern to Aboriginal peoples and all Canadians.”

When the TRC’s report was published in 2015, Indigenous peoples comprised only 1.5% of CBC’s employees. According to the 2016 Canadian census, Indigenous peoples comprised 4.9% of the population.”

CBC’s diversity and inclusion plan for 2015-18 aimed to address the lack of Indigenous peoples employed by the corporation by creating paid internships for Indigenous reporters at Radio-Canada and in television production (among other actions).

In 2018, Indigenous representation in the CBC workforce increased to 2.1 per cent, 2.3 per cent in 2019, and decreased to 2.2 per cent in 2020. The increase was minimal at best and there is still no CBC executive that identifies as Indigenous.

Indigenous peoples are underrepresented in an industry that is critical for their public perception. News media that reduces Indigenous peoples to a set of fixed attributes to define and frame them by is not ethical journalism.

Canadian journalists owe it to themselves, to the non-Indigenous Canadian public, and Indigenous peoples to provide MMIWGTSTW just news coverage due to the power they yield in shaping what people think.

Most importantly, however, coverage of Indigenous peoples should focus on the elements that make them human rather than solely victims. However, for issues such as MMIWGTSTW, the coverage that does occur must refrain from anti-Indigenous framing and must be given the same level of prioritization that white women receive in terms of the length of articles, its placement in a newspaper or website, and more.

Call to action 86 would help with this as it calls for Canadian journalism programs to incorporate mandatory education for all students about the country’s colonial past, present, and future. This could help create generations of journalists that would cover Indigenous with the same journalistic rigor and integrity white women are provided.

Decolonization in Canadian journalism begins with establishing Indigenous education frameworks in journalism schools and having proportionate representation in the workplace. It will be achieved when factors such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality do not result in disproportionate and skewed news coverage.


Feature graphic by James Fay


Decolonizing the environmental justice movement

Grassroots Indigenous organization seeks to increase public awareness of the oil industry’s environmental impact

“We’re all sharing a house that’s on fire and everyone’s looking at each other saying they didn’t start it,” said Vanessa Gray.

On Feb. 27, Gray’s voice resonated throughout a classroom in the Hall building of Concordia’s downtown campus, with attendees listening attentively in their seats. Gray is Anishinaabe kwe from the Aamjiwnaang First Nation, located outside of Sarnia, Ontario—also known as Canada’s Chemical Valley.

Gray founded the grassroots organization Aamjiwnaang & Sarnia Against Pipelines (ASAP) to increase public awareness of the issue in her hometown and to pressure the federal government to stop the perpetuation of the oil industry.

According to ASAP’s research, 40 per cent of Canada’s petrochemical industry takes place within a 50-kilometer radius of Aamjiwnaang, with over 60 oil refineries and chemical plants currently in operation. These refineries and plants are responsible for the contamination of the land, air and water of the community, which has severe negative impacts on their health and way of life. According to a 2011 report by the World Health Organization, Sarnia’s air is the most polluted air in Canada. In a zine called Canada’s Toxic Chemical Valley, written by the Montreal contingent of Aamjiwnaang Solidarity, Gray said that 39 per cent of her community needs puffers to breathe properly. In the zine, it was also said that the animals who are living off the land in the area are mutated, and are not supposed to be hunted to eat.

Although the Chemical Valley case is extreme, it highlights the damaging effects that oil refineries and pipelines have on surrounding communities and on human life.

The organizer, land defender and educator spoke about her experience as an Indigenous woman in the environmental justice movement, most recently regarding the Wet’suwet’en situation, in relation to her work with Chemical Valley.

Gray said that for Indigenous peoples, having access to their own land, free of contaminants that come from pipelines, is all about survival. “But that is the greatest threat to the Canadian economy that we see today,” stated Gray.

The event was filled with non-Indigenous attendees asking Gray what they could do as allies to support the direct action Indigenous peoples across Canada are taking, in a show of solidarity with land defenders of Wet’suwet’en.

In response, Gray simply stated non-Indigenous folks shouldn’t’ be asking her what to do.

It’s your government that has the guns pointed at us,” said Gray.

Gray explained it’s not easy for her to do this work in educating non-Indigenous people, but she’s doing it for a reason—to lay out the situation, and to communicate that Indigenous people and settlers have different roles in this struggle.

“I’m handing a huge responsibility to you, now that you know,” said Gray. “I have my roles, and you have yours. Don’t try to make me the one to walk you through decolonization, because it means something different to me than it does to you.”

How settler allies can help support Wet’suwet’en land defenders

The facilitator of the event, Jen Gobby of Climate Justice Montreal said the Wet’suwet’en protests against the pipeline are the most powerful current example of climate activism in Canada. Gobby continued that this is the moment for non-Indigenous allies to support it in any way that they can.

Gobby said this could mean following the Unist’ot’en supporter protocols for solidarity action like sending resources, fundraising, raising awareness, and dismantling the colonial narrative of the local climate movement.

Juhi Sohani of Climate Justice Montreal added that the message coming from the front lines is clear: people need to be out there alongside the Indigenous land defenders, blocking infrastructure and taking as much direct action as possible.

Sohani said that talks, such as this one with Gray, are crucial. Sohani explained that every day, settlers should be learning as much as they can in order to hold themselves and the Canadian government accountable for the ongoing colonization and genocide of Indigenous people in this country.

“I think it’s really important for us as non-Indigenous people to feel guilty, and to grapple with that guilt because it’s really important that we come here and we feel uncomfortable,” said Sohani.

Sohani continued that through this, settlers can start to unpack the realization that they as settlers implicitly subscribe to capitalism and are benefitting from it in a multitude of ways because of the current way of life of the majority—and could ultimately put this knowledge to good use.

As Gray said, “we need to figure out a way to make this better for our future generations. We have to look seven generations ahead, because that’s what the lands need—is sustainability.”


Photo by Marissa Ramnanan


Poli SAVVY: Standing in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en

Colonizers might learn how to pronounce the word reconciliation, but that won’t stop them from resurfacing time and again.

In Jan. 2019, the RCMP raided the setup camps and checkpoints on the traditional lands of the Wet’suwet’en First Nation in northern British Columbia. These tensions arose after the land defenders stood against the approved Coastal GasLink pipeline project, which would carry natural gas through unceded ancestral lands.

Now, a year later, the BC Supreme Court ruled in favour of the $6.6 billion project––recognizing Canadian law over Indigenous law on unceded lands––allowing the construction to begin while providing another mandate for the RCMP to enforce the injunction.

January 13

The RCMP set up an exclusion zone. What this means is an access-control checkpoint was set up at the 27-kilometre mark of the forest road, restricting entrance to members of the community that might be carrying food supply, but also to the journalists covering the crisis. This directly violates the Canadian Charter of Rights and the importance of keeping the public informed.

Sending militarized forces to unceded territories taps into the widely damaging colonial-capitalist narrative which Canada has been trying to step away from. It carries the message that Indigenous people are criminals for standing in the way.

Let me put things into perspective for you. If a pipeline was threatening to deteriorate your own backyard––the garden that you’ve spent summers building to greet your dear friends with your fresh strawberry and mint salad––while also threatening to sabotage your water so an industry that has been proven to destroy our planet can continue to fuel a foreign market… Wouldn’t you stand up? Wouldn’t you at least try to have a conversation? Yet, while BC Premier John Horgan was visiting Kitimat, he refused to meet with hereditary Chiefs of Wet’suwet’en.

Frankly, this is undeniably part of a bigger fight that concerns all Canadians––how we intend to protect our environment. This is a battle against capitalism and corporations that starts with us respecting Indigenous lands.


Graphic by Victoria Blair


Climate Stories: An Inuk Perspective

Jason Sikoak hosted a workshop at 4th Space on Nov. 20 about Indigenous art and climate justice.

An Inuk Perspective, with Jason Sikoak is an event part of the five-year project led by Elizabeth Fast, an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Human Sciences at Concordia.

The project is called Land as our teacher, and, according to Fast, it occurs “to create land-based programming by and for Indigenous youth to understand the impact [of land-based teachings].” Her initiative has a lot of collaborators, as well as an Indigenous youth advisory council, as she explained.

Land as our teacher is not about raising awareness to non-Indigenous people, but forming a safe space to promote exchanges between communities and connection with nature.

Uniting nations through their roots is a great way to heal Indigenous difficulties, according to Fast. She agreed that Indigenous perspectives have a wholesome and sustainable approach in relation to the environment and community, to name a few.

She also explained how meaningful the project is, especially for Indigenous youth who grew up disconnected from their culture and land for reasons related to colonization.

Fast is driven by offering Indigenous youth land connectedness she did not experience growing up in Manitoba. Understanding the interaction with nature shaped an essential part of Indigenous peoples’ language, culture and identity.

“Some land-based teachings have been lost,” Fast said.

This initiative is purposefully addressing problems within Indigenous communities such as lateral violence, Fast said. It is the result of various assimilation and discrimination policies from the Federal and Provincial governments. According to Indigenous Services Canada, about 30 Indigenous communities across the country still don’t have access to clean water to this date.

Fast acknowledges the lack of education regarding Indigenous knowledge and culture and encourages a focus on Indigenous perspectives. She reiterates her support of The Indigenous Directions Action Plan, a Concordia based initiative, which promotes decolonization and Indigenization of the University with concrete steps.

This workshop was also meant to acknowledge art as a vehicle for social and environmental progress. Its facilitator, Jason Sikoak, who is from Nunatsiavut, an Inuit territory in Newfoundland and Labrador, taught attendees on how to make painted designs on fabric bags. He stressed the importance of making sustainable art with reusable and recycled material.

Sikoak’s perspective on climate change is based on territorial exploration with his father who witnessed the deterioration of the land over the course of his life. The artist started to address environmental issues with his art after his brother got arrested during the Muskrat Falls protest in Manitoba over the Lower Churchill project.

The ongoing hydroelectric project, next to Muskrat Falls in Labrador, requires the flooding of a 41-square-kilometre reservoir for the dam. This reservoir is home to soil and plants which contain mercury, and flooding can release carbon that fuels a process called methylation. According to an article published by the CBC, this phenomenon generates the formation of methylmercury, a neurotoxin linked to health problems. It can poison food supplies, especially fish, which is essential for Inuit survival.

Hydroelectricity is seen as a great green alternative, but it actually devastates Indigenous lands, explained Sikoak. Flooding thousands of hectares of forest destroys the fauna and flora as well as impacting the population who depends upon it.

Sikoak insisted on the importance of everyday behaviour regarding a sustainable lifestyle such as avoiding single-use items, buying local, and using reusable bags.

In addition to individual behaviours, collective initiatives such as environmental art proposed by Greenpeace and climate strikes are creating more exposure. A significant example is the climate march on Sept. 27, with approximately half a million protesters in the streets of Montreal demanding for the government to make environmental changes.

Regardless of an individual’s understanding of the state of the environment, the workshop demonstrated that we are directly affected by climate change and it is only by uniting that we can redefine governance and the way large corporations operate.

“We can’t eat money,” Sikoak said.


Photos by Cecilia Piga


Àbadakone: Global Indigenous artists at the National Gallery of Canada

Concordia students attend the annual art history bus trip to Ottawa 

On Nov. 9, Concordia students who attended the art history bus trip to Ottawa had the opportunity to visit the new exhibition Àbadakone / Continuous Fire / Feu continuel, currently on at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC).

In an enclosed room off to the side of the main gallery space at the NGC, visitors observe a video of an Indigenous woman washing a white woman in a metal bathtub. Both are silent; all that is heard is the loud sound of dripping water as the Indigenous woman gently washes the white woman’s face, hands, arms, legs and feet with a white cloth. The process is slow and methodical, each movement is careful and tender. It is not until the Indigenous woman begins to cry that visitors are removed from their comfortable state of observation and subsequently inserted into a place of pain and profound suffering.

Touch Me (2013), a video produced by Métis, Cree, Tsimshian and Gitksan artist Skeena Reece speaks of Indigenous trauma and centers on the connecting processes of healing between settlers and Indigenous women. This soothing act with water serves in releasing painful memories and ensues a silent restorative experience shared between the two women.

Reece is one of more than 70 contemporary global Indigenous artists taking part in the exhibition Àbadakone / Continuous Fire / Feu continuel  presently on at the NGC. Àbadakone, Algonquin for “continuous fire,” is the second exhibition to be held at the NGC that features Indigenous artists from around the world; the first being Sakahàn, Algonquin for “to light a fire,” which was held in 2013.

The works cover all mediums, including photography, beadwork, drawing, painting, digital installations and sculpture, and span across almost a dozen rooms. Àbadakone presents the works of Indigenous contemporary artists from countries such as Canada, the United States, Guatemala, South Africa, Finland, and Japan. Some of the artists featured in the exhibition are Leonce Raphael Agbodjélou, Sarah Sense, Barry Ace, Rebecca Belmore, Marja Helander and Dylan Miner.

Àbadakone’s curators have framed the exhibition in accordance with the themes of relatedness, continuity and activation. Wall text in the gallery reads: 

“Relatedness is the view that all things on the earth are our relations. This idea is fundamental to Indigenous worldviews. Relatedness – from the intimate to the global – reminds us of the responsibility inherent in art making to all living things as manifested in what is conventionally understood as the ‘art object.’”

“Continuity is relatedness across generations, histories and our futures. It helps us see that art is not static in time, but is in a constant cycle of change and renewal.”

“Activation is about presence: how an artist animates a space, an object or an idea through performance, video or viewer engagement.”

Other themes the exhibition explores include decolonization, Indigenous sovereignty, land-based knowledge, food insecurity, gender and identity, legacies of trauma and colonization, and practices of healing.

Many of the exhibition’s artists employ methods of ‘re-historicization’ and ‘re-narration’ to subvert and disrupt colonial histories and discourses. One such artist, Will Wilson, aims to dismantle the racist undertones embedded within colonial and ethnographic photography. His ongoing portrait series CIPX (Critical Indigenous Photographic Exchange), that imitate the portraits of colonial photographer Edward S. Curtis, sees a disturbance of the colonial ethnographic gaze and consequently functions in reclaiming Indigenous agency and sovereignty.

During the upcoming months, Àbadakone will feature performance artists such as Peter Morin, as well as host workshops, film screenings, talks and other events.

The annual Ottawa art history bus trip is put on by Concordia’s Ethnocultural Art Histories Group, Concordia’s Undergraduate Journal of Art History, the Art History Graduate Student Association and the Department of Art History. In addition to visiting the National Gallery of Canada, other visits included the Ottawa Art Gallery and Carleton University Art Gallery.

The exhibition is on display at the National Gallery of Canada, at 380 Sussex Dr. in Ottawa, until April 5, 2020. The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Tuesday to Sunday, and 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Thursdays. 


Photos by Kari Valmestad.

Exit mobile version