U of R students have role to play in implementing Calls for Justice

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Students can answer calls to justice (Jeremy Davis)

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On June 3, 2019, after nearly three years of interviews, testimony, investigations, and data collection, the Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls released their final report to the public.1 Their findings, that the murders and disappearances of thousands of Indigenous women, girls, and 2SLGBTQQIA+ people were nothing short of a genocide, sparked a flurry of furious debate2. But while Canada’s (mostly white, largely male) politicians and pundit class quibbled over whether the ongoing killings and disappearances qualified as a “genocide” (according to the definition given by Raphael Lemkin, the man who coined the term, provided in a 46 page supplementary report: it does) the report also offered up 291 unique calls for justice, tangible acts that governments, institutions, and, critically, ordinary Canadians, can do to help end the violence. 

In the province with the highest rates of domestic violence in the country3, where there are ongoing searches for multiple missing Indigenous women, it is especially urgent that the people of Regina, and the students at the U of R, take an active role in the pursuit of justice for Indigenous women and girls and answer the eight calls for justice issued to individuals. Kallie Wood, the Executive Lead at the University of Regina’s Office of Indigenization said that if students “feel connected to the future of this country and…feel responsible for the future of this country, then [they] need to care about reconciliation.”  

Of the eight recommendations given to ordinary Canadians, four are calls to take an active role in learning and strengthening ones’ knowledge about Indigenous people in general, and local First Nations specifically. “Part of your responsibility is knowing,” said Misty Longman, Manager of the Aboriginal Students’ Centre. She added that this is not a daunting task.  

“There’s a lot of easy ways for [U of R] students to learn about Treaty 4 territory and where they come from.” 

“They have access to the elder on campus, all students have access to the kokum in the ASC… There’s a big misconception that we’re just here for Aboriginal students or Indigenous students. That’s not true. We are here for all students on campus,” she said 

“It’s really important for all students on campus to know that any cultural events that take place, they’re automatically invited to.”  

This includes a pipe ceremony that is held at the beginning of every semester, as well as the opportunity to make tobacco ties to offer elders when seeking knowledge and guidance.  

She said that while many non-Indigenous students taking responsibility for heeding these calls to action may feel ashamed or embarrassed about how little they know about the land they live on and the people they live among, they need to remember that Indigenous students are grappling with some of the same struggles. “[In our territory] we’ve lost so much language, so many protocols, that we often are struggling. We’re carrying our shame of not knowing, our identity issues of being legally defined, what does that legal definition mean, how do we look, how do we identify, what are our teachings in our territory, from our people, how are we supposed to act? And we’re navigating that. We’re carrying the shame of that.” 

“You get to learn it and make mistakes. We lost it and have to rebuild it and that’s even harder.” She said that when following the calls to action, non-Indigenous students need to be mindful of not burdening their Indigenous classmates and peers.  

“We don’t want to exhaust Indigenous people by having them individually educate all of us.” But at the same time, “don’t carry the shame and the scolding around with you… we’re making the same mistakes.” 

She said students need to recognize that this process will not be easy. “Especially in our territory we need to understand as an ally, as a non-Indigenous person who wants to be engaged, who wants to work on their path of reconciliation, first and foremost, it’s not going to be comfortable.” 

The calls for justice do not end with learning. Canadians must also step up to become advocates. Longman said that Recommendation 15.8  “Help hold all governments accountable to act on the Calls for Justice,”  means in part that “we have the responsibility to ensure that what was agreed upon [in the treaties] is taking place. Advocating for these agreements to be enforced and maintained.” This also means familiarizing themselves with the report and contacting their representatives and pressuring them to ensure that the provincial and federal governments heed the report’s calls to action and move towards meaningful, measurable, positive change in the living conditions of Indigenous women and girls.  

According to the report, “[t]he most important aspect to changing the relationships between Indigenous women and the people or institutions with the ability to help protect them is challenging “the way it is.’” Longman agrees. “A really good way to start decolonizing is to break down what we always have done and just try and do things differently…. A lot of systems don’t work, but we keep doing them anyway.”  

As students and the public move towards challenging systems and implementing calls to action in their own lives, Longman said it’s critical to continuously check in to ensure that their intentions and actions are authentic. “We have to be mindful of just checking off the list and thinking, okay, we did that, we’re reconciling, we’re acknowledging.” Wood agrees. “There must be intentional deeprooted understanding and acknowledgment. Awareness of the past, acknowledgment of the harm inflicted; atonement for causes; and action and dialogue to change behavior in the next generations. 

Build relationships with our Indigenous leaders and communities,” said Wood. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.” 

And always remember the price that was paid to bring us to this point and this place. “It wasn’t free,” Longman said. “None of this came free.” 

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