QNSA walks out

Group claims mismanagement of Aboriginal funds

The Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre has been without a director for two years.
The Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre has been without a director for two years.

A group of students walked out of the University’s Aboriginal Council meeting on Tuesday after Queen’s Native Students’ Association (QNSA) President Donna May Kimmaliardjuk read a three-page speech addressing the challenges Aboriginal students face on campus.

Calling the University climate “chilling,” Kimmaliardjuk said some of the issues are the Four Directions Aboriginal Student Centre (FDASC) operations and financial anomalies in funding for Aboriginal studies.

In the speech, Kimmaliardjuk also proposed recommendations to address the issues they raised.

Queen’s Aboriginal Council was established in 1992 as part of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Aboriginal affairs strategy.

The council’s mandate is to make Queen’s more accessible to Aboriginal students.

On Tuesday, the council met to discuss Principal Daniel Woolf’s academic vision document Where Next.

About 30 Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students—or about half of the attendees—left after Kimmaliardjuk read her speech.

One of the biggest challenges has been the lack of a director or acting director for the FDASC for about two years, Kimmaliardjuk said.

“Instead, the non-Aboriginal dean of student affairs [Jason Laker] has unilaterally appointed non-Aboriginal individuals within his own office to manage Four Directions from within the office of student affairs,” she told the Aboriginal Council.

Non-Aboriginal staff have made culturally inappropriate decisions for the FDASC, she said. As a result, fewer Aboriginal students and community members are using the FDASC.

Dana Wesley, former QNSA president and ArtSci ’09, said Aboriginal students have had many meetings with the University about the need for a director for the FDASC.

“Two years ago, the director … went on leave and didn’t come back and there was a lot of talk and meetings,” she said. “It’s two years later and they’ve only started job postings.”

Wesley said maintaining a robust student centre is important for Aboriginal student retention. “Retention at Queen’s tends to be low but, in my own experience, retention has been a lot lower in recent years,” she said.

QNSA staged the walkout as a last resort, Wesley said.

“Attending meetings has not resulted in any response other than placation,” she said.

Wesley said she hopes media and public attention will pressure the University to respond to Aboriginal students’ concerns in meaningful ways.

“Hopefully these actions will get more response and more dedication on their part to work with us,” she said. “It’s time for administration to be accountable.”

QNSA member Vanessa Watts said the group doesn’t have animosity towards the University.

“We want to reconcile a common goal we share: recruitment and retention of Aboriginal students,” she said. “One of the ways of increasing this is by creating a welcoming community.”

Watts said Four Directions has lost staff members in the past few years without seeing them replaced.

The centre doesn’t have a director, an academic or cultural advisor and an elder-in-residence.

Watts said she thinks having more Aboriginal staff in FDASC positions could create a more welcoming atmosphere for Aboriginal students.

“I know stories of people who could have done graduate work here and continued, but chose to go to another school because of their experiences here,” she said.

Kimmaliardjuk said QNSA wants to see more Aboriginal presence in selection committees for filling FDASC staff positions.

The centre should also have a full staff made up of a director, an administrative assistant, a programs officer, a recruitment officer, an academic and cultural advisor and an elder-in-residence, she said.

“Available positions should be filled in a timely manner,” she said. “All should be Aboriginal.”

QNSA also raised questions about where funds directed at Aboriginal studies are actually being spent.

“These funds don’t appear to be carried through to the next budget year, meaning monies intended for Aboriginal programming are being absorbed into general budgets,” Kimmaliardjuk said in the speech. “Greater transparency is required in this regard.”

QNSA is requesting unspent funds directed at Aboriginal-focused programming be reported to Aboriginal Council every year, she said.

The University received $1 million in provincial funding on Jan. 22 to go towards the FDASC, the Aboriginal Teacher Education Program, a master’s course in Aboriginal and World Indigenous Education Studies, a collaborative public administration graduate program with First Nations Technical Institute and the University Experience Program.

Kimmaliardjuk said practices have been disconnected from promises.

“An instructor who actually successfully ran one of only three Aboriginal-focused academic programs at Queen’s within the Faculty of Education for several years was recently terminated,” she said. “In addition to being woefully underrepresented, Aboriginal instructors are frequently denied tenure or tenure-track positions.”

Kimmaliardjuk said QNSA recommends having alternative evaluation options for Aboriginal faculty seeking tenure, such as having community work included as part of evaluation.

Other institutions, such as Trent University, use such methods.

QNSA is requesting that discussions on policy amendments begin immediately so proposed changes are brought to Aboriginal Council at its May 11 meeting.

On Tuesday, Vice-Principal (Academic) Patrick Deane released a statement on Queen’s website saying the University is committed to ensuring the success of Aboriginal students, faculty and staff.

“The process of securing the permanent staff positions necessary to support FDASC is moving forward and consultation with the Aboriginal community will be important to this process,” he said. “The University recognizes that this requires strong and dedicated Aboriginal leadership, and that there have recently been staffing difficulties that are not yet resolved.”

Deane said he appreciates QNSA’s concerns.

“Their recommendations address serious issues and the University is eager to advance this dialogue.”

Wesley said she thinks the University should get input from Aboriginal students on what their needs are and also look at what other universities that have higher numbers of Aboriginal students are doing.

“There’s been a trend to decreasing services for Aboriginal students,” she said. “It’s only a matter of time before we’re completely forgotten.”

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