A Message to Brock University from a Member of Niagara’s Indigenous Community – “You Have A Racism Problem”

Message Follows In Wake Of Retired Brock Prof’s “Abhorant” Tweets Against Indigenous People. University Is Moving To Strip Prof of                     Honorary Professor Emeritus Title

“I think of my two-year experience at Brock as more of a survival story than an educational experience.  … It got so bad I took a year off to heal and now as I prepare to return, I am yet again reminded about the “underneath”; the subtle mechanisms that perpetuate racial oppression in institutions.  I am tired of hearing about reconciliation when what we need is action.”          – Celeste Smith

Celeste Smith, speaking two years ago at a gathering of Indigenous people and other members of the Niagara community, to save Thundering Waters Forest in Niagara Falls from urban development. File photo by Doug Draper

From  Celeste Smith, Oneida, Six Nations of the Grand River,  Undergrad Student/ Indigenous Human Rights Activist

Posted August 13th, 2018 on Niagara At Large

Open Letter to Brock University in response to the recent anti-Indigenous social media activity of Professor Emeritus Garth Stevenson.

To the Brock University Community:

You have a racism problem. Unfortunately, what was exposed last Thursday (August 9th) on social media is not an isolated incident, but a large and underlying truth. I know this first hand as an Indigenous student who has been degraded and humiliated in the classroom and in other spaces at Brock in my short two years of academic study.

Now, before you raise your hand in protest and inundate me with stories of initiatives and strategies you are implementing and before you tell me the professor in question has been thoroughly humiliated and the issue resolved, let me stop you.

I and many of my indigenous peers/faculty have a story to tell you and it not a positive one. Our experiences must be acknowledged and validated as the FIRST STEP in healing Brock’s reputation within our community as a safe and positive place for racialized people.

This is my Truth:

  • I have walked by the disgusting portrait of Tecumseh raising his fist in anger every day (not in peace and friendship as our stories say).
  • I have battled with overzealous vegans and professors who refuse to believe that a traditional cultural diet is necessary for our Indigenous identity (even after I told them horror stories of my grandmothers residential school experience).
  • I have listened to professor’s drone on about colonial superiority while ignoring indigenous perspectives (even as they ritualistically recite land acknowledgments).
  • I have been the victim of verbal humiliation and jokes by professors so cruel that even human rights investigators have shaken their heads in disbelief.
  • I have filed a human rights complaint and won, yet never received any letter of apology or formal written statement from administration or faculty (and not one dime in compensation even though it ruined my year).
  • I have routinely corrected and lectured professors and students about Indigenous knowledge and perspectives in every class I take (and experience the emotional labor from it).
  • I have pushed a Brock union to support Indigenous issues beyond just lip service and have experienced spiteful retaliation in return.
  • I have taken down countless (racialized) event posters that have been defaced and mocked.

My experiences are not unique and this speaks to a culture of subtle and insidious racism on campus.

Members of the Indigenous Solidarity Coalition at Brock University gathered for a tobacco ceremony and prayer vigil in front of the Schmon Tower in April of 2016. The ceremony was in response to the suicide epidemics facing the northern First Nations communities of Attawapiskat, Ont. and Cross Lake, Man.

I think of my two-year experience at Brock as more of a survival story than an educational experience.

Ironically, I changed my major from Political Science to Sociology in order to escape professors like Mr. Stevenson.

It got so bad I took a year off to heal and now as I prepare to return, I am yet again reminded about the “underneath”; the subtle mechanisms that perpetuate racial oppression in institutions.

I am tired of hearing about reconciliation when what we need is action.

The problems that plague Brock have been festering for too many years to keep saying “be patient’. I should not have to leave my community to finish my degree because these things can and should be fixed. What is missing from the equation is simply the will to deal with the inequities TODAY.

A few months ago I was invited to speak on a national educational panel on the topic of “Indigenizing the Academy”. After challenging the title of the panel (and changing it to decolonization) my colleagues and I spoke on the need for listening to Indigenous People.

How can the academy “Indigenize” when it does not even understand what the word “Indigeneity” means? When it does not understand or respect Indigenous worldview?

The academy cannot by its very nature be indigenized as it is a colonial western based system. Indigenous worldviews do not fit into colonial narratives, however, there can be concrete actions to try and minimize the impact on Indigenous and racialized students and faculty.

I would suggest the following as a starting point:

  1. Increase Positive Indigenous Representation
    *Remove the 1812 war murals and Tecumseh murals that depict Indigenous people as warmongering, violent aggressors, and replace them with positive creative expressions by local artists that show the real basis of Haudenosaunee/ Anishinabek life which is centered on peace.
    2. Mandatory Cultural Competency Training
    *This should be mandatory for all new staff and old staff alike as many of the older staff have long racist held beliefs that must be challenged
    3. Fast tracking of Indigenous Minor and Major Accreditation
    *The University must attract more Indigenous students and have available Indigenous subject matter for current students. There is currently no such field of study.
    4. Prioritizing Indigenous Hiring and Tenure-Track Positions
    * Brock is sorely deficient, Windsor and Lakehead have implemented excellent strategies and have created new positions.
    5. Mandatory Indigenous Studies Classes for All Undergrad Students
    * This has been shown to increase student awareness and empathy for Indigenous people.
    This is by no means an exhaustive list but should be considered the MINIMUM of actionable items. Brock can and must improve its treatment of Indigenous and Racialized people. Implementing a Human Rights Taskforce is a positive step, but it will do no practical good if the culture of disrespect is not changed as well.

I suggest we start by removing the angry, bloodthirsty murals around campus that depict our people as warmongers.

We can replace them with depictions of the peace and friendship that our people offered the colonial newcomers when they first arrived on the shores of Niagara.

The truth is that our people were focused on building positive relationships. Even now we still wish for peace between us and it is possible if we work together in mutual respect.

Celeste Smith,
Oneida, Six Nations of the Grand River
Undergrad Student/ Indigenous Human Rights Activist
Co-Founder, Indigenous Solidarity Coalition@ Brock, Haudenosaunee Right to Hunt

#GarthStevenson
#IndigenousRights
#BrockUniversity

For a recent Niagara At Large post on this matter, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2018/08/11/brock-university-condemns-racist-rants-from-former-prof-targeting-indigenous-people/ .

Here is one of the social media messages that has Brock moving to strip retired  Garth Stevenson of his honorary emeritus professor title

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

 

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