Recognizing Indigenous Lands at the March LSS BAGM
At its March 10th meeting, the LSS Council passed a motion to recognize the indigenous lands that Queen’s Law rests on at the beginning of the March 24 BAGM. I attended this meeting, because I was concerned with the direction of the discussion on what I learned had become a contentious issue among the LSS Council members.
Those opposed to the motion raised two main issues.
First, that the LSS, as representative of the student body is ill-positioned to make political statements. This argument relies on the assumption that there is such thing as an apolitical decision. The danger with this line of thinking is that supposedly apolitical stances cloak themselves in the language of neutrality, but often end up perpetuating systems of power. They also fall into the trap of being ahistorical and, as a result, promote a narrative of the present disconnected with the past. When we are caught in this pattern of thinking we say things like “Racism is over”, “We are all equal”, or “Why focus on difference?”
Declaring something as political does not divest our responsibility to consider the issue and make a decision based on our values. In 1986, a motion was brought before the Law Faculty Board recommending to the University Board of Trustees that it withdraw investment in companies with business ties to apartheid South Africa. The motion passed. In his book, Let Right Be Done: A History of the Faculty of Law at Queen’s University, Dr. Mark Walters notes there was opposition on the grounds that the decision was “political rather than educational in nature.”
Another proposed change to the Queen’s Faculty of Law Academic Calendar in 1987 was to acknowledge that “the fundamental principles of equality are not well enough served by a legal community which remains disproportionality male and white.” Again, this motion was opposed on the grounds that it was “a political statement inappropriate for the Calendar.” Today, the statement remains part of our Academic Calendar with a set of regulations and policies to accompany this statement.
I spoke to Janice Hill, Director of Four Directions, about the purpose of the symbolic gesture of recognizing indigenous land. The themes she spoke about were fostering greater understanding and awareness among non-indigenous students, increasing the visibility of indigenous peoples, and creating a safe and welcome space for indigenous peoples.
During Aboriginal Awareness Week, there was a panel discussion on the crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada. In response to the question “What can we do to make Queen’s a safe space?” she responded: “Acknowledge Aboriginal people are here and our place historically. Acknowledge this land we sit on.”
The second issue raised by some LSS members concerned the wording of the acknowledgement. At a previous meeting, members requested that a script be provided by someone who could speak for the community as members felt uncomfortable writing on behalf of an indigenous voice. Interestingly enough, people felt comfortable altering that voice. The opposition rested on the qualification of lands as “sacred.” This is an excellent example of how silencing occurs when we subject and subjugate other perspectives to the dominant culture. I can only guess that the contention was due to the secular society we live in and the discomfort with anything spiritual. The land as sacred, however, is key to the teachings of indigenous peoples.
It is important when we have these discussions that we are aware of our position of power in relation to the subject matter and acknowledge what we do not know. Sylvie McAdam, in Nationhood Interrupted, states, “Colonization is not over if people are still reaping its benefits and others are continually victimized.” Unfortunately, when we do not acknowledge this idea we continue to perpetuate ignorance in the name of equality and we continue to silence those without a voice.
On March 11, Justice Abella offered a talk on identity and multiculturalism. She imparted three lessons on policy and law students: (1) Indifference is injustice’s incubator; (2) it is not what you stand for but what you stand up for; and (3) we must never forget what the world looks like to those who are vulnerable.
Simply put, acknowledging these shared territories is one way to bring indigenous issues to the forefront of our thoughts and actions. I am very encouraged by the fact that this motion passed and hope it brings us one step closer to contributing to the inclusive community within Queen’s Law.
Nika Farahani (2L) is a contributor to Juris Diction.