I’m tired of SFU’s performative activism

How can we discuss reconciliation when Indigenous people aren’t part of the conversation?

Courtesy of SFU News

by Marco Ovies, Editor-in-Chief

SFU has done it again: they have failed to consult Indigenous students on a building for Indigenous students. 

In a letter posted by the First Nations Student Association (FNSA), they stated they weren’t even invited to the consultative workshop for the creation of this building. Accompanying that was a list of recommendations that the University needs to put in place. This included: 

  1. Proper and ongoing consultation with host Nations
  • This includes but is not limited to protocol around ceremonial spaces, consultation to key community members from the Host Nations, this includes Chief and Council, Elders, Matriarchs, Knowledge Keepers
  1. Proper and ongoing consultation with key pillar community members, such as Indigenous Student Centre and First Nations Students Association
  2. Indigenous student outreach to ensure Indigenous student voices are hear
  3. Ongoing updates about the First Peoples Gathering House process that are public and accessible
  4. More student involvement and seats on the Aboriginal Reconciliation Council
  5. Meaningful consultation with SFU and the ARC Report

Not only has SFU failed to acknowledge the letter, it is clear that our institution does not even have a basic understanding of how to properly go about the creation of this building, or the needs of its Indigenous student population.

But what is most shocking is that they are putting this building in a public place. “Ceremonies are not spectacles for outside viewings” said the FNSA in their letter “our practices should not be displayed for the curiosity of settlers.” 

As a non-Indigenous, white-passing individual, I understand that my voice isn’t the one that needs to be heard right now. I also recognize that my writing this piece is symbolic of the lack of representation at this institution. But given that I have the platform to report on these atrocities, I find it necessary to utilize it in bringing awareness to these unjust actions by the university.

The creation of The First Person’s Gathering House feels like SFU is checking off the box labeled “Indigenous reconciliation” on their list of things they pretend to care about. It is performative and quite obviously shows where their values lie.

While you could say that performative activism is better than no activism, I argue that it’s not. Performative activism is no better than staying silent, you are just going through the motions because you are afraid of being called racist or ignorant. This prevents you from understanding and acknowledging the problems at hand. Performative activism is done to increase one’s social capital rather than one’s devotion to the cause.

This isn’t the first time SFU has failed it’s student body. The inherent racism regarding The Clan name change, the lack of opposition for the TMX pipeline, the failures of SFU Health & Counselling regarding LGBTQ2+ students, invading students privacy with proctoring software, and the raise in tuition are just a few of the examples from this semester. Why is our university pretending to be concerned about students’ well-being when their actions speak otherwise?

But what can you expect from a Board of Directors where the majority of members are White? Or from a Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Council (EDI) with no representation from the Black community despite numerous people from the Students of Caribbean and African Ancestry (SOCA) applying. If we want our activism to be more than performative, we need to be including BIPOC individuals in the conversation, in positions of power, and giving them a platform to voice their concerns. 

Indigenous students and communities need to be included in the dialogue for any meaningful reconciliation, otherwise what is the point? Who are we doing this for? SFU needs to take a hard look at why they did not include Indigenous students’ perspectives in the decision process. Because if we aren’t building the First Persons’ Gathering House for Indigenous students, then who are we building it for?