Dear Mr. Hope,
I write out of concern for a poster that was approved for posting during the Student Elections last month. The poster was brought to my attention by Faculty members who were offended by it.
The poster in question featured a student wearing a replica of a Plains Indigenous headdress, and the tagline was “#jointhetribE”. There is an associated video which can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dCdIVsUidQc
I am an Indigenous Métis woman with roots in the Red River Metis Settlement in North America. I have Cree and Scottish/French ancestry, and am related to many Metis and Cree families throughout the Canadian West, including the Cardinals, Laframboise, Gladue, Laboucane, Inkster, Dufresne and Dennett families. My cousins are Metis, Cree (Nehiyaw), and Snuneymuxw. My older sister, niece and two nephews are Status Indians, recognised by the State under its racist Indian Act, as are my grand-nephews and grand-niece. I am descended from William Ernest Todd, a Scots-Irish surgeon who moved to Canada to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1816 and his Métis wife, Isabella Dennett.
I realise that the student in question may not have been aware of the significance of wearing ‘redface’ [the term applied to an individual dressing up in Indigenous clothing in order to impersonate an Indigenous person], but given the University’s own historical role in dispossessing Indigenous peoples of material culture during British Imperial expansions in Canada, the United States, New Zealand and Australia and elsewhere — including headdresses– I am quite disconcerted that the poster was approved for use.
As an Indigenous woman living and working in the UK, I often confront ongoing racism and disregard for the impact that British colonialism had, and has, on Indigenous peoples — including friends, family and colleagues. One the impacts of this colonialism is dispossession and violence that intimately affects every Indigenous person in Canada. You may be aware that currently 824 Indigenous women have been murdered or have gone missing in Canada, with officials taking few steps to address the increased rates of violence that Indigenous women are subject to. Recent evidence has emerged showing that First Nations children who were sent to state- and church-run Residential schools in the 20th century were subject to drug and starvation studies, and were withheld care in the name of science, to establish care guidelines for white children. Prominent Indigenous and non-Indigenous leaders are lobbying the United Nations to recognise the Residential School period as Genocide, under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Rather than approve the poster, this was an opportunity to discuss the role of truth and knowledge-sharing processes in acknowledging the impact of British political and educational institutions on the lives and livelihoods of Indigenous peoples in Canada. This could have opened up a fruitful context to discuss some of the positive things the University has done in recent years, including the repatriation by the Museum of sacred items to Indigenous peoples in former British colonies.
Given the ongoing political and social implications of the erasure and misrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in North America and elsewhere, I would like to know a) how this poster was approved for use, and b) what, if any, processes are in place to address the use of racially offensive materials for University activities. I would also like to know what steps the University is taking to better acknowledge the unique challenges that other Indigenous students like myself face in pursuing studies here.
All the best,
PhD Candidate, Social Anthropology
2011 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar