Queen’s Native Students Association responds to report on Indigenous students

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Indigenous students at Queen’s find OUSA ‘Indigenous Students report’ misses mark 

From left to right, Darian Doblej, Sarah Hanson and Tara Wilson.
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Although the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance released a policy paper on Nov. 9, many Indigenous members of the Queen’s community feel the report missed the mark.

The Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance (OUSA) and their report

Titled “Indigenous Students,” the report was ratified following OUSA’s Fall General Assembly on Oct. 29 and released Nov. 9. Indigenous students from McMaster, Brock and Laurier, as well as staff from Queen’s, Western, Laurier, McMaster and Brock collaborated with OUSA on the project. 

According to a press release, the focus of the OUSA report is to identify “barriers that impede the participation of indigenous peoples within Ontario’s universities and outline strategies to combat these obstacles.” 

“Half of the student authors on this paper identify as having Indigenous ancestry,” OUSA President Andrew Clubine told The Journal via email. “Their experiences and insights were instrumental in giving authenticity to the recommendations contained within.” 

Through their research, OUSA found there are major barriers to Indigenous enrollment in post-secondary institutions. To combat these, the report contains 51 recommendations for provincial investment to address the identified concerns and is available through the OUSA website for viewing.  

“The recommendations we hope to see the most immediate action on from the government, moving forward, is on addressing the financial barriers faced by Indigenous students,” Clubine wrote. “The Indigenous Student Bursary program is in desperate need of an increase in funding to improve the affordability of post-secondary education in Ontario.” 

To streamline the process of receiving financial aid, Clubine told The Journal the report advises to add the bursary program on the OSAP portal. 

The report cites the Council of Ontario Universities statistics on Indigenous enrollment in post-secondary institutions, stating only one per cent of the university population in Ontario is Indigenous. The report continues to say “only 11 per cent of Indigenous people[s] aged 25 to 64 have a university certificate, diploma or degree at a bachelor level in comparison to 29 per cent of non-Indigenous people[s] in the same age bracket.” 

Other recommendations in the report include making information more accessible for prospective students who live in remote reserves through funding and inclusive language. It also suggests that “in the interim, the provincial government should increase the amount of funding allocated to the Indigenous Student Bursary program from $1.5 million to $37 million in order to address the lack of funding available specifically for Indigenous students.” 

The Ontario government has expressed its commitment to “working with Indigenous partners to create a third pillar of the postsecondary education system” in its 2017 Fall Economic Statement. Clubine believes this is an important first step for the province. 

“Collaborating with these diverse Indigenous people[s] was incredibly engaging and encouraging,” Clubine said. “We learned a lot about how reconciliation and decolonization can take place within the university sector, as well as how organizations like ours can Indigenize our own policies and practices.”

Queen’s Native Students Association (QNSA) response

The Journal reached out to Indigenous members of the Queen’s community through the Queen’s Native Student Association (QNSA) to hear their response to the report. University Council on Anti-Racism and Equity member Darian Doblej, ArtSci ’18, and QNSA Co-Presidents Sarah Hanson, ArtSci ‘19, and Tara Wilson, Nursing ’19, shared their thoughts.

For Hanson, the problem lies in the report only giving a general view of everything. 

“They miss a lot of realities that Indigenous students face,” Doblej remarked. For example, he said the report recognizes the non-financial barriers to Indigenous enrollment in post-secondary institutions in Ontario are the result of a lack of internet access and the geographical location of reserves.

“They’re not really considering other social determinants that are barriers to Indigenous students,” Wilson added. “Adding terms like ‘most notably’ or ‘due to issues like this’ would have kept it from sounding like those were the only two issues.” 

The group also indicated several concerns with the report’s proposal in respect to Indigenous representation. Doblej said the report doesn’t mention people with disabilities or two-spirit Indigenous people. He later added Inuit people aren’t considered in the report either. 

While they agreed engaging with Indigenous students was important, QNSA believes OUSA should’ve looked beyond its mandated universities if it was to represent the experiences of all Indigenous peopleswithin Ontario. 

The report requests the integration of Metis and non-status First Nations students into the government-funded Post-Secondary Student Support Program (PSSSP), which is given to Indigenous students in need. For Doblej, this is a troubling proposition. 

He believes this move would “water down” the rights First Nations in Canada had fought for. Doblej recognized the two groups have complex differences, and this wouldn’t be well-received by the First Nations community.

While they identified several more concerns, the students felt there were some positives from the report. 

The need for an Indigenous travel grant — an issue Doblej found “universal” to Indigenous peoples throughout Ontario — was an important highlight from the report.  

The group said the report’s focus on Indigenous women’s safety and the right to engage in smudging is important to Indigenous students and a “good catch” by OUSA, according to Wilson.

Although they think the report wasn’t successful in representing the Indigenous students in Ontario, they acknowledged the task itself. The general direction of the policy paper was appreciated. 

“We understand that it’s hard to get everything in there,” Hanson said. “But if you need more time to get things done quickly, you should take it.”

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