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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 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.

I think of my 2-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

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