I am delighted that Mt. A has made 2016 “The Year of Indigenous Knowing.” In the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the university has committed to directing its focus and services to Indigenous issues on campus. In the last two years, Mt. A has hired an Indigenous Affairs Coordinator, implemented an Indigenous studies course, opened the Mawiti’mkw and raised the Mi’kmaq flag.
While these are important steps, a commitment this significant raises additional questions: What Indigenous knowledge is being recognized by the institution? Is the university prepared to change its policies in order to learn from Indigenous peoples? How far is it willing to go?
I was born and raised in western Québec along the Kitcìsipi (Ottawa River). I am Métis from French and Mi’kmaq inheritance. We are a people that began not long after the first Europeans set foot on the east coast of this land.
Métis are a distinct culture from First Nations, as we recognize our European, African and Asiatic origins in the same way we do our Indigenous roots. The Métis identity, a way of life, is hereditary and not determined by blood percentages. It exists from ear to ear, through reason and from the heart. Indeed, our Indigenous culture is humble and ecological, but we as a people do not hide from our mothers’ and fathers’ heritage. We choose to embrace, stand proudly and defend the naturalist ways.
Because of this, I am disappointed with Mt. A’s attitude toward the environment. It continues to hold major investments in the fossil fuel industry, an industry that erases the voices of Indigenous peoples, destroys their land and threatens their way of life. And yet, Mt. A drives a gas-guzzling 1950s Buick. It must do better.
A commitment to Indigenous knowing is undermined when Mt. A refuses to listen to groups like DivestMTA, which still struggles to persuade the university that its investments are unsustainable. The senior administration’s only response has been to create a subcommittee to look into the possibility of future responsible investments. Not releasing reports on new investment plans looks bad for Mt. A, and it makes the responsible investment subcommittee look like a mere illusion of progress, an empty promise.
Does Mt. A truly understand the problems facing this land and its people? The latest driving record of its ‘50s Buick says otherwise. The institution needs to be mindful of the frontline communities that are affected by its dead-end investments.
This environmental destruction is evidence of ongoing settler-colonial expansion. Mt. A remains unwilling to fully acknowledge that the very land upon which the university is built is not Canadian land at all, but rather unceded Mi’kmaq territory. And yet, the university plans to take down the Mi’kmaq flag – which was raised on Sept. 29 in honour of Treaty Day – and replace it once again with the Canadian flag.
Can Mt. A truly be committed to Indigenous knowing when it refuses to fully acknowledge the violent and racist history of Canada’s unfolding? We must question nationhood when it is built on the exploitation and domination of land and people. Despite this violent reality, the Mi’kmaq people never relinquished their land to the settler-colonial state of Canada. To this day, the land upon which Mt. A rests is unceded. While the Mi’kmaq flag raising as an act of recognition is superb, it means nothing if it hides Mt. A’s inconvenient truth. As a sign of decolonization, Mt. A ought to distance itself from the state that stole this land.
In terms of “Indigenous knowing,” recognition is not sufficient for First Nations, Métis and Inuit peoples. We know who we are, and we know where we are. We seek real change and sustainable thought put into decisions.
Now that the Mi’kmaq flag has finally flown on campus, taking it down is not only indicative of the limits to what Mt. A accepts as Indigenous knowledge, it is a symbolic act of colonialism.