A letter signed by 34 university professors has resulted in meetings among faculty and administration to take place as well as a rally and round dance.
The University of Regina held an executive of council meeting on Feb. 26. One topic of discussion included an open letter, written by 34 professors of the university, in regards to the backlash received from the scheduled lecture by Canadian poet George Elliott Clarke.
Clarke was scheduled to give a lecture last month at the University of Regina titled: ‘Truth and Reconciliation’ versus ‘the Murdered and Missing’: Examining Indigenous Experiences of (In)Justice in Four Saskatchewan Poets.’
According to an article published by The Globe and Mail, Clarke canceled his lecture at the university due to controversy regarding his relationship to Stephen Brown, whose name was Steven Kummerfield when he was convicted of the 1995 killing of Pamela George, an Indigenous woman from Saskatchewan.
“One of the reasons that the university gave for not consulting or not cancelling the talk was because it felt that it was an issue of academic freedom that had to be withheld,” said Allyson Stevenson, member of the Indigenous Advisory committee and Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Peoples and Global Social Justice. “So a lot of us professors want to ensure that Indigenous consultation is not pitted against academic freedom”.
Stevenson signed the open letter and said, “For me as a Metis scholar and someone who works with Indigenous communities, consultation is really important so I don’t see it as being opposed to academic freedom.”
A rally and round dance took place at the same time as the executive of council meeting. A flyer about the event read “Stand in Solidarity, Dance for Change,” and invited members of the community to stand and dance as part of an event that calls upon the administration to honour its promise to strengthen Indigenous inclusion, engagement and consultation on campus.
“I hope there is a deep listening on the part of the administration to understand why this particular speaker … was problematic right from the start and to understand that Indigenous people and voices when there is resistance, when there is opposition, when there is direction given that those directions should be heeded,” said Stevenson
The rally and round dance began with an opening prayer at 2:15 p.m. followed by student leaders addressing indigenization on campus and ended with a round dance.
“I think one of the principles that we’ve talked about is ‘not about us without us,’ ” said Stevenson. “Which is … there needs to be involvement in all levels of the decision making [and] policy-making. Whatever level of interaction, there should always be representation from the people that it’s going to be impacting … and not only consultation but then heading and responding. That’s kind of the other side of that, listening to Indigenous peoples’ directions and perspectives.”
The open letter was addressed to President Vianne Timmons, Acting President Tom Chase and the University Executive Team, Dean Rick Kleer and the Faculty of Arts leadership team as well as deans and associate deans it reads in part:
“There is a breakdown in trust and reciprocity between the administration of the University and the will and sensitivities of both on and off-campus communities. This was made patently clear by the recent events surrounding George Elliott Clarke’s lecture…
“We call on all levels of administration…to listen to those who are effected by their decision.”