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Aboriginal students petition Students’ Council to repeal bill

Aboriginal Students’ Council has launched a petition aiming to repeal a Students’ Council bill and have Council work with marginalized students to create a new version of the bill.

On January 8, Students’ Council passed Bill 5, which received disapproval from Aboriginal students. The bill restructures the committees of Council, re-tasks their roles, and defines differences between committee types.

Launched by Katherine Belcourt, a member of the Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Ad-Hoc Committee, the Aboriginal Student Council (ASC) has fully supported the petition.

“The (Students’ Union) are not listening to us,” Belcourt said. “We have voices too. We are not getting any power ourselves to be part of the political conversation.”

To help gather more signatures, the ASC has been holding a series of open information sessions to bring students up to speed on the issue, answer questions, and allow anyone interested to sign the petition.

Students’ Union president Marina Banister said the SU has not been contacted regarding the petition. However, she said any executive or Students’ Council members would be willing to talk to students concerned with Bill 5.

“While stand-alone petitions do not have the ability to repeal the passed legislation of Students’ Council, Council may consider that feedback if they wish to propose alternative legislation,” she said. “We always encourage students to talk to their elected representatives on Council if they have feedback or questions about Council business.”

According to Kaitlyn Walcheske, ASC vice-president (external), the ASC has been overwhelmed with support since starting the petition. Students from all faculties and backgrounds have been willing to participate.

“The students who are signing are saying it is not okay to silence people who are coming up to have their voices heard,” Walcheske said. “The conversation began as ‘How can we get 500 signatures?’ Now, it is not how can we get 500 signatures, but how many will we get?”

For Belcourt, what led to the petition was the lack of consultation done over the specifics of Bill 5 and the little attention given to changes proposed by the ad-hoc committee or the ASC. Belcourt said Indigenous students gave suggestions at committee meetings and emailed their individual faculty councillors but weren’t listened to.

“A lot of the things we have said were not acknowledged,” Belcourt said. “We have shared thoughts and have been shut down.”

Ambrose Cardinal, vice-president (external) of the ASC, said the entire process around Bill 5 has been extremely hard on him and all Aboriginal students.

“Just because you belong to a committee that is working on Indigenous issues does not mean that (Indigenous issues) do not exist when you want them to not exist,” Cardinal said. “Recognition is not enough. We should move forward together.”

The ASC hopes the signatures will lead to a complete repeal of Bill 5 and a new process that will engage all Aboriginal and marginalized voices. For Belcourt, Indigenous students receiving a seat at the table with the Aboriginal Relations and Reconciliation Ad-Hoc Committee was a good start. Now she wants councillors and executives to take the concerns of Aboriginal students seriously.

“Trying to fit us into these boxes or categories which we are not going to fit in is not going to work,” Walcheske said. “Why not create something that we all are going to be proud of?”

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