The U of M Indigenous Students’ Association (UMISA) released a statement Thursday demanding UMSU president Jakob Sanderson step down, citing an “utter disregard and disrespect for Indigenous students.”
The statement, posted online and presented to the board at its Thursday meeting, also requests the executive offer a public apology for “negligent and disrespectful actions” that took place during the Canadian Federation of Students Annual General Meeting (AGM) Nov. 16 to 19 in Gatineau, Que.
UMSU president Jakob Sanderson said he has no plans to step down.
The statement noted what UMISA called several situations of “racist and ignorant behaviour” exhibited at the AGM that were brought to their attention.
The statement lists six members of the UMSU board of directors, including president Jakob Sanderson, who attended the AGM but were not present at the meeting’s Grand Entry. A Grand Entry typically signifies the beginning of a powwow and invites people into the arena where ceremonies will take place.
UMISA claims that no member locals from UMSU’s Local 103 were present at the ReconciliAction panel hosted at the AGM. The ReconciliAction campaign advocates for the full implementation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s recommendation number 16, which urges “post-secondary institutions to create university and college degree and diploma programs in Aboriginal languages.”
The statement refers to an unnamed Indigenous student who attended the AGM and felt unsupported by fellow UMSU delegates.
Indigenous Students’ Commissioner from the federation’s Circle of First Nation, Métis and Inuit Students Annie Beach was that delegate, and said she felt “very excluded” by other UMSU members present.
“They decided to not show up and support me in these spaces, they prioritized their own relationship with [the federation] over supporting one of their own delegates,” she said.
Sanderson said the claim that other Local 103 delegates had been purposely unsupportive toward Beach was “not true.”
“Obviously she didn’t feel welcome to sit with us, and so I definitely apologize that we didn’t do enough to make her feel welcome with us,” he said.
“But it was never said that she was not welcome with us, and in fact it was explicitly said otherwise on multiple occasions.”
A call for apologies
UMSU president Jakob Sanderson has apologized for not being present at both events.
Sanderson cited weather as the reason the executive did not make it to the Grand Entry, saying the team could not get a cab due to a blizzard in the area.
He said deciding not to attend the ReconciliAction workshop was a mistake.
“I definitely regret not being able to put aside some of our issues with the Canadian Federation of Students in not attending that workshop,” he said.
Sanderson previously apologized for not attending the Grand Entry during the closing plenary of the AGM Monday Nov. 19 and during his presentation at the Thursday board meeting.
According to Beach, Sanderson formally apologized at the closing plenary only after she had pointed out the rest of Local 103’s, the U of M delegation, lack of involvement in both the Grand Entry and the ReconciliAction panel and asked “other locals to hold themselves accountable.”
When asked if he would publicly apologize as per UMISA’s statement, Sanderson said “we apologized publicly in the open session of a board of directors meeting, I’ve now apologized publicly in the Manitoban, we’ve apologized publicly on the plenary floor of a Canadian Federation of Students AGM, as for further actions, we’ll make those decisions as an executive team.”
Finding support elsewhere
National executive representation of the Circle of First Nations, Métis and Inuit Students Chance Paupanekis said the call for Sanderson’s removal was a response to ongoing mistreatment.
“We’re just done. We can’t do this anymore. We can’t stand by and let an entire organization fight against our people,” he said.
“They fight us on personal levels, they fight us on institutional levels and they just don’t show up for us. That’s been proven.”
UMISA’s statement has received letters of support from both the Southern Chiefs’ Organization Youth Council, the University of Winnipeg Students of Colour Collective and the University of Winnipeg Aboriginal Student Council (UWASC).
Both Paupanekis and Beach said the UWASC Local 08 delegates attending the AGM had been more supportive overall — Beach sat with Local 08 throughout the AGM, and Paupanekis sat with Local 08 during his first AGM.
“It’s hard to go up in Grand Entry and see no one from my own local but having [Local 08] there alongside me instead,” Beach said.
“It hurts. It hurts to be a Local 103 delegate and not have that support but have it from other schools.”