CampusOpinion

Differences between VPSL candidates emerge at Aboriginal Student Council forum

VPSL canadidates' answers to questions at the the Aboriginal Student Council (ASC) forum started to differentiate the two. 

This article expresses opinions based on the Aboriginal Student Council Forum of the Students’ Union 2022 Election on March 3, 2022. 

Though the Campus Saint-Jean (CSJ) forum left me feeling like the race was relatively tied between Joannie Fogue and Rowan Morris, the two candidates running for vice-president (student life), the Aboriginal Student Council (ASC) forum started to differentiate the two candidates. 

In the CSJ forum, much of the discussion revolved around including francophone and queer communities across all campuses. In this forum, Morris succeeded at bringing their passions into their solutions regarding Indigenous issues — Fogue seemed to struggle more to share more ideas past her prepared points and focused primarily on consultation with Indigenous students and their experiences. 

Considering that Fogue proudly declared her francophone status at Wednesday’s forum, it was commendable of her to acknowledge the harm the francophone community has caused Indigenous people. Yet her ideas still fell through — during her remarks, Fogue implied that advocacy for Indigenous students needs to start from within Indigenous students themselves and proposed that Indigenous students should participate in an advocacy summit in order to be more confident in the rooms they’re in.

Morris critiqued this in their question to Fogue, to which Fogue defended her ideas by saying that she does not believe that Indigenous students currently have poor advocacy. Instead, Fogue stated that she wants to ensure Indigenous students have the resources to successfully advocate — especially when entering spaces where numerous barriers exist for Indigenous students. Morris rebutted with a statement that Indigenous students at the U of A are already very strong and that they are proud of the work that Indigenous advocates are already doing. 

During the audience question period, a Morris campaign member asked for clarification regarding the discrepancies between Fogue’s platform and Fogue’s forum statements, asking if this is asking Indigenous students to “shoulder the emotional labour of advocacy.” In response, Fogue seemed to repeat previous points, saying that she wants to do consultation before making a plan, and that she plans on creating an Indigenous advocacy summit to do that collaboration.

Overall, I understand Fogue is attempting to support Indigenous students in their advocacy — giving them the resources necessary to lead anti-colonization movements and feel confident in their advocacy. However, her forum remarks should’ve gone deeper into how she plans to advocate alongside them rather than coming across as expecting Indigenous students to do more.

Morris’s work in residence really became their most valuable strength in this forum. When asked about the current work they do for reconciliation, Morris discussed the work they did while working as the inclusion and diversity intern at residence services. At their job there, Morris has been able to ensure that all student staff in residence are aware that Indigenous students are able to smudge in U of A residences without consequence, worked towards including Indigenous narratives in the plaques discussing the people that the residence towers are named after, and assisted in holding the first U of A residence candlelight vigil, organized by Indigenous Cohort Leader Juanita Cordova.

Morris has pushed for inclusion education for residence and student staff which ties in nicely with their points at the CSJ forum regarding anti-bias education. Additionally, Morris discussed the communications they’ve had with the First Peoples’ House through their time working at residence and that they hoped to continue this relationship into their time in office, should they be elected. 

Fogue was asked the same question regarding her current work for reconciliation —  as the president of Association des Universitaires de la Faculté Saint-Jean (AUFSJ), she stated that she’s already been working on reconciliation on CSJ. She has been advocating for Indigenous representation in CSJ Student Services, and part of her future reconciliation goals is to communicate to instructors in both French and English to achieve truth and reconciliation. Further goals for Fogue include communicating with Indigenous researchers and ensuring to use issue-specific resources to bring francophone and Indigenous communities together. However, Fogue failed to go into much detail past that, making her seem weak in comparison to Morris’ work towards reconciliation.

Morris’ work through residence makes them look like a stronger advocate for relevant student issues. Additionally, Morris deeply values anti-bias education and in the CSJ forum advocated strongly for anti-bias education regarding queer students. It was really strong of them to continue this point into reconciliation conversations, also advocating for anti-bias education regarding colonization and Indigenous issues — it demonstrates Morris’ vision for an anti-bias program is inclusive of different marginalized communities, ensuring no one gets left behind.

Morris did admit that they haven’t discussed Maskwa House with First Peoples’ House. Another downfall Morris had was that they said they plan on “put[ing] shovels in the ground” for Maskwa House but in their platform, critiqued that “many people have said that they would get the shovel in the ground, Maskwa House was yet to be built.”

This parallel is purely coincidental but reflects a certain irony in Morris’s promise — they are themselves at risk of becoming a student politician who promises shovels in the ground but doesn’t deliver. While Morris promises to secure a temporary dedicated area on campus for Maskwa House, their plans to lobby and “pester and argue” with as many stakeholders as possible isn’t that different from what candidates have said in the past. Candidates have been making promises about Maskwa House for years with little to show for it and it’s not immediately clear how Morris would be any different.

Despite this, Morris’s ability to tie Indigenous issues back to main ideas of their platform made their position seem more well-rounded and made them the stronger candidate in Thursday’s forum. While Fogue’s answers were less convincing in the ASC forum, she is still a strong candidate and is definitely still in the running. However, in order to keep this position, Fogue will need to be able to provide more well-rounded answers to questions posed by Morris and the audience, a strength Morris exhibited more in this forum. 

Hopefully in future forums Fogue is able to tie her passions into her answers as beautifully as Morris did today, but should she fail to do so, Morris will likely be the stronger candidate for the VPSL position.

CORRECTION: At 9:15 p.m. on March 8, the article was corrected to reflect the fact that VPSL candidate Rowan Morris assisted in organizing the first U of A residence candlelight vigil with Indigenous Cohort Leader Juanita Cordova. A previous version stated that Morris was the organizer. The Gateway regrets this error.

Anna Bajwa-Zschocke

Anna is in her third year of an education degree. Usually she can be found amongst colour coded sticky notes, nerding out about European history, bad reality TV, or some new book.

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