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Update: Indigenous leaders at University respond after Indigenous scholars call on Queen’s to ‘retract’ statement supporting staff

UPDATE (Thursday, Jun. 17, 2021):

Following the series of events outlined below, which began with an anonymous document alleging that six faculty at Queen’s University have wrongly been identified as Indigenous, Queen’s University has released a joint statement from its Provost and its Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation).

The statement is in response to the Collective Indigenous Scholars’ Statement on Identity and Institutional Accountability, which was released on Monday, Jun. 14, 2021, as outlined below.

Queen’s Provost and Vice Principal (Academic), Rahswahérha Mark F. Green, and the University’s Associate Vice-Principal (Indigenous Initiatives and Reconciliation), Kanonhsyonne Janice C. Hill, begin their statement by acknowledging that the University takes issues of Indigenous identity “very seriously,” and noting that they “in fact agrees with many of the challenges facing Indigenous communities outlined in the Collective Indigenous Scholars’ Statement on Identity and Institutional Accountability letter.”

“As Indigenous members of the Queen’s community, we understand this is a very complex issue and this recent discourse has been both difficult and upsetting,” reads the statement from Green and Hill, both of whom are prominent members of the local Mohawk communities.

“However, we are concerned with recent allegations raised against some of our Indigenous academics and community members through an anonymous report. We did not simply reject the document, but rather, being privy to authentic personal records, were able to assess and determine that the report had cited erroneous records and ignored important facts.”

The statement goes on to explain that “the determination of who is considered a member of Indigenous community is made by Indigenous community,” and that “the individuals in question are accepted and respected members of Indigenous community, accepted by Indigenous leaders, Elders and the Indigenous Council of Queen’s University.”

“Last year, we reflected on our shared responsibilities as part of the Tehontatenentsonterontahkhwa Friendship Wampum Belt that was presented on behalf of the Clan Mothers at Tyendinaga and the Katarokwi Grandmother’s Council. With these responsibilities, we continue to commit to our personal responsibility to nurture good relations with all Indigenous persons and communities, including students, staff, and faculty,” it reads.

“We acknowledge that Indigenous identity is a very complex issue that remains the focus of rigorous and intense debate, particularly as it relates to equity hiring of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis (FNIM) faculty and staff,” the statement concludes.

“Queen’s encourages this inquiry and supports the continuation of respectful Indigenous processes that include meaningful engagement with Indigenous communities.”

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

More than 60 Indigenous scholars, Chiefs, Elders, authors and lawyers have united to support an anonymous document alleging six faculty at Queen’s University have wrongly been identified as Indigenous. 

Image taken from the June 7 anonymous report naming six staff at Queen’s University in question regarding claims to Indigenous identity.
  • On Monday, Jun. 7, 2021, a 53-page anonymous report was published alleging false claims to Indigenous identities upon the following six Queen’s University staff: Dr. Lindsay Morcom, Dr. Karine Bertrand, Marjorlaine Lapointe, Robert (Bob) Lovelace, Dr. Ian Fanning, and Morris (Onagottay) Blanchard. The entire report can be read here
  • On Friday, Jun. 11, 2021 Queen’s University released a statement stated it “reject(s) the anonymous document in question, which is misleading and contains factual inaccuracies.” The entire statement can be read here
  • On Monday, Jun. 14, 2021, a letter of support signed by 62 Indigenous professors and educators throughout North America- including a number of Queen’s University professors was published and released. A number of Elders, Chiefs, authors, artists and legal professionals also signed the document. An additional 86 supporters have publicly signed the document. The document is entitled: Collective Indigenous Scholars’ Statement on Identity and Institutional Accountability. The entire document can be read here.

The Indigenous Scholars’ statement specifically calls on Queen’s University to retract its statement, and asks for all Canadian universities to ensure Indigenous communities are properly recognized and respected.

“We call on Queen’s to retract its statement immediately, as it marginalizes Indigenous members of its community,” the statement reads.

“We also know what it feels like to be in spaces where white faculty claiming Indigeneity on the basis of family lore or one Indigenous ancestor from hundreds of years ago speak over us about experiences they have never had, often claiming both trauma and healing that never belonged to them,” the 62 signees write, touching on an issue that they feel affects more people, and institutions, than just Queen’s University.

“We call for a process that honours the self-determination of the Algonquin Nation, and centres living, continuous, and rooted First Nations, Inuit, and Métis legal orders as ethical paths towards meaningful decolonization of colonial institutions.  

“Further, we call upon all universities in Canada to enter into meaningful processes to establish ethical hiring guidelines that disrupt European settler self-Indigenization and that affirm First Nations, Inuit, and Métis legal orders and sovereignty,” the statement says.

The 62 authors write that, “It is unacceptable for universities to simply use an honour system when it comes to verifying the legitimacy of claims made by any faculty, staff or student claiming to be Indigenous” and that citizenship is a scrutinized journey of “sovereignty and self-determination” to determine legitimacy. 

Queen’s statement reads: “We reject the anonymous document in question, which is misleading and contains factual inaccuracies including some genealogical information of individuals named in the document.”

It goes on to state that the university “supports its Indigenous faculty and staff, and community partners and the communities to which they belong, and its Indigenous Council – all of which have been targeted by these malicious allegations. The university respects and trusts the Indigenous protocols used to identify those it considers Indigenous. The individuals identified in the document are welcome, active, and respected members of the Indigenous and academic communities within the university.”

The June 14 letter claims that Queen’s “did what perhaps most settler-colonial institutions would do. They doubled down, ignored troubling information about several of their employees, issuing a statement before coordinating any meaningful dialogue with all of the Indigenous faculty and staff.” 

The 62 signees add that “unilateral claims” by “white people” dilute the legal orders and protocols in place by Indigenous communities, which in their words pushes “backwards, and are continued act of racism towards nations and societies Canada has violated repeatedly since European contact.”

The issue goes beyond the anonymous letter; though it has ‘started the conversation’ regarding legitimacy in Indigenous identities, there has been cause for concern long before the document was published, its writers argue.

“We know that in Canada there is a financial and legal incentive for universities to overreport on FNIM (First Nations, Inuit, and Metis community) hiring given their obligations under programs such as the Federal Contractors Program and other policies that require universities meet pre-established equity targets,” it states. “We are aware that these new communities of white settler self-Indigenizers legitimize their existence through flawed and harmful membership criteria, often rooted in the logics and policies of the state, that are NOT based in the deep legal orders of our nations and societies. These white settler self-indigenization processes often only require individuals to produce evidence of one or two “root” ancestors from hundreds of years ago.”

The 62 signees add Indigenous communities are “working hard to draw on our autonomous and sovereign legal orders to assert or self-determining rights to enact these protocols rooted in love, reciprocity and connection, and to do so with the utmost integrity for what it means to claim a community, and in turn, to be claimed back.” 

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