Candidates stress importance of using ISP to guide AMS Indigenous relations at Indigenous Forum

At the first AMS elections Indigenous Forum in two years, candidates lauded the importance of following through on the Indigenous Strategic Plan (ISP) and compensating Indigenous students for their work and partnership.

Following two Indigenous meet-and-greet events held during the 2019 and 2020 elections, and a cancellation last year, this year’s event took place in the Nest on Monday, March 7. Candidates in all election races made an appearance.

This year’s event was more formal than those held in past years. Rows of chairs faced a table from which candidates answered questions written by Alexandra Thomas, AMS Indigenous engagement facilitator. It was followed by live questions from members of the AMS Indigenous Committee who attended via Zoom. The room was largely filled by candidates, though a few students attended in person.

Candidates focused on the compensation of Indigenous students for their work by creating new scholarship programs and reducing the delay for paying owed compensation.

Eshana Bhangu, who is running in the Senate and presidential races, spoke of an incident last summer with an Indigenous poet who criticized the AMS’s financial systems for not paying them on time.

Sydney Harakal, presidential candidate and the sole Indigenous candidate in this election, suggested that the AMS currently engages in “extractive consultation” and stressed the importance of proper compensation and collaboration.

“It does come down to ensuring that we are properly compensated …. I think it’s time we move beyond consultation and get into engaging and making decisions together.”

Beyond compensation, the ISP was referenced by every candidate as a resource they consider important and intend to use to guide their policies. The ISP is one of the university’s strategic plans, developed over several years to guide UBC’s decolonization and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples.

“[The ISP is] a huge part of advocacy to the university and for Senate as well,” said Dana Turdy, candidate for VP academic and university affairs and Senate.

Candidates expressed the need to stop asking Indigenous students what to do — a question they have already answered. Remy the Rat, a joke candidate represented by Esmé Decker, urged “not just continually [asking] how [the AMS] can help when the [ISP] already exists.”

Beyond the ISP, Harakal stressed the importance of helping connect Indigenous students with their history.

“We should work to facilitate a place where Indigenous people are more comfortable learning their history and becoming more connected with their culture.“

Dante Agosti-Moro, a candidate for Senate, said he wants to create a standing committee of Indigenous students to hold the Senate accountable to the goals of the ISP.

In a standout moment, Nakoda Hunter, Indigenous Committee co-chair, asked Tate Kaufman, candidate in the presidential, Board of Governors and Senate elections, about his role as current vice-president of UBC Students for Freedom of Expression (SFE). SFE organized an event with conservative political commentator, Lauren Southern, who denied the existence the genocide of Indigenous peoples in residential schools.

Kaufman said he “believes in free speech” and his role in SFE is to “make sure that the scope of free expression on campus stays as wide as possible and that involves inviting the most controversial speakers possible.”

He went on to say that as AMS president he would instead “take more of a harm-reduction position,” fighting for “academic freedom” while doing “as little damage as possible.” Kaufman added that he disagrees with Southern and believes the treatment of Indigenous peoples in residential schools “was a genocide.”

Though few students not running in the election attended, Shania Muthu, the AMS Chief Elections Officer, said that the Indigenous Committee plans to share the takeaways from the event with broader Indigenous communities on campus.