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Indigenous students question universities’ commitment to Indigenization

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Ntawnis Piapot is one of two recipients of the 2018 CJF-CBC Indigenous Journalism Fellowships, established to encourage Indigenous voices and better understanding of Indigenous issues in Canada’s major media and community outlets.


Darian Lonechild, a student at the University of Saskatchewan, says she first joined the Facebook group « USask Confessions » simply for entertainment purposes.

The USask Confessions group encourages people to: « Private message us your most heartfelt, disgusting, hilarious, filthy, embarrassing confessions! It will be posted ANONYMOUSLY on this page. » 

Some posts are humorous, some profess their secret admiration for others. However, Lonechild said certain posts that take aim at Indigenous people are « appalling. »

(USask Confessions/Facebook)

« You really question if true critical thought is flourishing and is the university really doing its job, » she said.

Lonechild, a provincially elected youth representative for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indigenous Nations — and nationally as the female youth representative of the Assembly of First Nations — said social media posts like this shouldn’t be taken lightly.

(USask Confessions/Facebook)

« When stereotypes and racist confessions are made… It really can make a student feel unsafe in an environment where they’re supposed to learn and feel safe, » said Lonechild.

Jacqueline Ottmann, the University of Saskatchewan’s Provost of Indigenous Education, said the USask Confessions page is not connected to the university and the vice-provost of teaching and learning has been exploring what can be done to challenge the website when it comes to racist posts.

The University of Saskatchewan recently unveiled a new strategic plan that outlines its goals for the next seven years and its aim to make the university a leader in Indigenization.

Indigenization is a term universities have adopted to describe efforts to include Indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing at their institutions. 

« Indigenization is not a separate commitment on its own, » said University of Saskatchewan President Peter Stoicheff.

« It runs through every commitment that we have, and that’s the university of the future. »

Tensions in the classroom

Erica Violet Lee, a recent graduate of the University of Saskatchewan, sat on many Indigenization committees during her time at the U of S. Lee was also a teacher’s assistant for a mandatory Indigenous Studies course.

Erica Violet Lee is a recent graduate of the University of Saskatchewan. (Erica Violet Lee/Facebook )

Lee said at times non-Indigenous students would roll their eyes or not take her seriously when she would be at the front of the classroom but she said she kept her message the same for each of her students: « You need to understand colonialism to properly serve Indigenous communities. »

« I realized this classroom may be the only interaction that they may have with someone Indigenous before they go and have an impact on our community members’ lives as social workers, as teachers, as health care workers, health care providers, » she told CBC.

Students at the University of Saskatchewan say there was tension after the Gerald Stanley verdict earlier this year.

In response, Lee said they held events to help students talk about the Stanley verdict and how it affected them in order to make students feel safe. That’s something that’s key to Indigenizing the campus, said Ottmann.

« These things are happening in our province and of course we have to talk about them in class. We don’t leave genocide at the door when we walk into a classroom, » Lee said.

« So those tensions — whether they’re talked about or not — are always in [Saskatchewan] classrooms. »

Leigh Thomas at the University of Saskatchewan. (Ntawnis Piapot/CBC)

Leigh Thomas is a U of S student who identifies as a two-spirit, genderqueer man whose first language is Cree.

« I don’t feel safe at all in any space I occupy, » Thomas said.

« There’s homophobia, there’s racism and then there’s also just straight up bigotry within classrooms and it’s because there is a lack of education and communication. »

New mural 

Indigenous artists Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch painted a mural at the University of Saskatchewan this week depicting water protectors.

« I think art helps to open people’s minds and create thought and that’s really important, especially in a place like university, » said Belcourt.

Christi Belcourt and Isaac Murdoch in front of their mural at the University of Saskatchewan. (Ntawnis Piapot/CBC)

But she acknowledged the limitations.  

« I think it’s generally a huge, uphill battle to try and Indigenize spaces that are typically not Indigenous spaces. »

Lonechild said that to Indigenize the universities, there needs to be human-to-human contact between students of all nationalities.

« The divide is real that the non-Indigenous students are sitting far away or completely separate from other students, » said Lonechild.

Universities ‘complicit’ with colonization, says UWinnipeg official

Kevin Lamoureux, the associate vice-president of Indigenous Affairs at the University of Winnipeg, said they are doing their best to fulfil the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action.

They intend to help Indigenize the campus by ensuring every student at the university takes a mandatory Indigenous Studies course. They said they still have a long way to go.

« Universities across Canada are absolutely complicit with the exercise of colonization, » said Lamoureux.

« Many of the pseudo-justifications of colonial practices were born out of universities. Much of the hurts and harms that have been caused come from universities. »

Lynn Lavallée, the University of Manitoba’s vice-provost of Indigenous Education, said she measures the success of her Indigenization program by the success and the safety of Indigenous students that attend U of M.

« When a student — a male Indigenous warrior, very apparently Indigenous — can walk into the academy and not have security called on him, then I’ll talk about Indigenizing the academy, » Lavallée said.

Lavallée said U of M has implemented Indigenous content into its nursing and law programs. But she said what works in the arts department might not work in say, the engineering program, so they have to look for solutions.

One would be to incorporate an « infusion » of Indigenous knowledge throughout a four-year degree program. The other would be to offer a full one-semester course. She prefers the latter.

« I’m not a fan of the infusion model for a variety of reasons, and that is because we are asking people without the expertise on a topic to teach about a topic, » she said.

« What we see happening is Indigenizing the academy, even including Indigenizing spaces, falls on the shoulders of Indigenous people already at the institution. »

Students as teachers

Most of the Indigenous students CBC spoke to talked about the « free labour » they provide, often bearing the brunt of the process of Indigenizing academia.

« Native students aren’t just allowed to focus on their own work and on their own success because often we’re too busy working on making classrooms bearable for ourselves and other students to come to, or we’re talking to professors or administrators [about] things that they should know already living in Saskatchewan, » said Lee.

Chance Paupanekis outside Migizii Agamik – Bald Eagle Lodge at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg. (Ntawnis Piapot/CBC)

University of Manitoba student and former Indigenous Student Association President Chance Paupanekis has been involved with numerous provincial and national initiatives to help Indigenize education. He helped start the « reconciliACTION » campaign for students to hold academic administration to account when it comes to fulfilling their promises to Indigenize, reconcile relationships with Indigenous people and, most of all, educate.

« We are here to get our degrees firstly, » he said.

« I’ve been in student leadership for four years now and I just received a position that pays me a small honorarium. I don’t do it for the money. I do it because I have the passion and I see the need for these things for our kids and our children’s children. »

Hire elders

Rollin Baldhead, a student in the Indigenous Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan, said he envisions changes — like paying elders higher wages for their teaching for a start — when it comes to Indigenizing.

Rollin Baldhead in front of the Gordon Oakes Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. (Ntawnis Piapot/CBC)

« If we are able to pay four or 10 elders from all areas of Saskatchewan and have them here for maybe about two years and try not to burn them out… paying them on a PhD level pay grade, then these teachers, these elders could then begin passing on their oral tradition, passing on their stories. »

Lamoureux said it is up to the Indigenous community to tell academic administration when they’ve been successful in Indigenizing campuses. But his personal goal is simple.

« When an Indigenous person can come to the University of Winnipeg and say that ‘I feel like my experience here is meaningful and my identity was honoured — as any other student’s identity should be — and I feel like I am graduating with a degree that in no way comes at the expense of my cultural identity, or my family, or my own sense of responsibility to history,’ that would be success. »

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‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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