Written by Amneet Mann, News Editor
The First Nations Student Association (FNSA) posted a public letter on their Facebook page detailing their concerns with the conduct of the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS).
The letter, posted on September 21, cited examples of alleged mistreatment of the FNSA by the student society, such as the SFSS avoiding consultations regarding space in the Student Union Building (SUB), “denying cheque requisitions, and forcing the students who lead the organization to shoulder financial burdens,” and demonstrating “outright racism in denial of events and responses to FNSA governance initiatives.”
The letter noted that the FNSA’s communication with their members over the summer had been limited due to the “circumstances surrounding our negotiations and communications with the SFSS.”
“Now that our membership and council have had the chance to discuss, we have agreed that our treatment by SFSS has been problematic, to say the least, and our attempts to reconcile with their board and leadership have been met with resistance and bad faith for years,” the letter stated.
“We hope that our struggle will continue to reveal SFSS’s disregard for the wellbeing of SFU’s marginalized communities — in particular, its students of colour.”
The letter went on to propose initiatives for the SFSS that would allow them to work towards becoming allies of the FNSA. These initiatives included “culturally appropriate” and “spatially accommodating” space in the SUB, “reliable financial security,” and direct consultation with the SFSS in all plans that involve the FNSA moving forward.
“Our dealings with SFSS is but one example of the asymmetrical distribution of power between institutions and Indigenous students and faculty at SFU.” – FNSA public letter
SFSS vice-president student services Samer Rihani spoke on behalf of the board to respond to the statements made in the public letter, stating in an email interview with The Peak that the society’s relationship with the FNSA had been complicated by the presidential impeachment.
According to Rihani, former SFSS president Jas Randhawa and vice-president external relations Jasdeep Gill had been the two main SFSS representatives in contact with the FNSA, “but were on both sides of the page.”
Rihani noted that further complications had arisen when Randhawa petitioned to provide SUB space for the FNSA while the SFSS was currently in negotiations with the student association.
Following the impeachment, Rihani wrote that “the [SFSS] board stands firmly on how we want to engage in meaningful conversation with FNSA, as well as other external groups. We are certain that we have a lot of good dialogue ahead of us, and groups can expect a total overhaul on what the SFSS is about.”
Concerns regarding interactions with the SFSS were brought up by FNSA board members during this year’s annual general meeting as well.
Following the impeachment of Randhawa, FNSA board member Matt asked whether the society would be held accountable for the work that had been done prior to the SFSS internal struggles. Jakob, also a FNSA board member, commented that the FNSA was “concerned about Jas’s impeachment because he’s been the first person from SFSS to come forward to us by his own accord and open up what we felt to be a productive dialogue.”
Gill responded on behalf of the SFSS, stating that the board was currently looking to set up a meeting time with the FNSA to continue their conversations and work with the student association. “We do want to sit down with you and see where we left off because that was a month and a half ago,” she said. “So if we can continue that conversation, we’re definitely ready for that.”
Matt raised concerns regarding the lack of funding and staff provided for the FNSA by the SFSS. “All the work that students put in, that’s all volunteer time,” he said. “All these students doing unpaid work, working with financials, bringing up annual budgets — all the work that we’ve done, it’s not compensated.”
He also brought up an incident regarding a bilateral agreement which has been drafted by FNSA membership and detailed how the student association was treated within the SFSS. According to Matt, the agreement was leaked online on May 25 without the consent of the FNSA. At the time of this article’s publication, The Peak was unable to find the bilateral agreement online.
The SFSS did not comment on the bilateral agreement during the meeting.