SFSS Council discusses donations to Indigenous Residential School Survivors Society

Councillor Peter Hance voices concerns over the Council’s “disrespectful” conversation

This is a photo of the door to the SFSS offices in the Student Union Building. The window has a large SFSS logo.
PHOTO: Gudrun Wai-Gunnarsson / The Peak

By: Pranjali J Mann, News Writer

In September, Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) vice-president external relations and community affairs, Eshana Baran, put forward a motion at a Council meeting to approve an annual SFSS donation of $10,000 to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society (IRSSS). The IRSSS is an organization based in BC that provides services to survivors of residential school such as counselling, physical health support, and cultural support.

The motion faced pushback from some Council members, resulting in discourse and subsequent amendments over the course of three Council meetings. During the initial discussion of the donation motion on September 28, Emiliyo Da Silva, acting global Asia studies councillor said, “At my old student union we donated $5,000 to an organization and later that year the Government of Canada removed their status for funding inappropriate things abroad.” Da Silva felt because the IRSSS also has no annual report on their website, it was an indication they do not conduct valid research. In the Zoom chat, councillor Mark Giles of psychology student union, said, “There is no reason why a charity would not have an annual report other than either fraudulent reasons or incompetent reasons.” 

At the beginning of the October 12 Council meeting, First Nations, Métis & Inuit Student Association (FNMISA) councillor Peter Hance said despite the lack of an annual reports section on the IRSSS’ website, there was enough information to make an informed decision. He noted in an interview with The Peak, “I feel there was no excuse; I mean, we’re paid councillors. I understand we are busy, but like, if we provided the information, you should at least open the link and not say we need a presentation.”

Regarding the discussion on September 28, Hance proposed a motion in the agenda to call for a collective public apology and increased efforts for education among Council members at the October 12 meeting.

Some councillors felt the responsibility of educating the Council about the motion should have fallen on the individual who presented the motion originally. Science undergraduate society councillor Ayooluwa Adigun, said, “Council should not be made to apologise [ . . . ] All the councillors here did was rightfully voice their worries.” 

According to Hance, a responsible answer to the councillors’ lack of information should have been, “I don’t have enough financial information,” instead of questioning the legitimacy of the IRSSS. 

Hance indicated the microaggressions and “anti-Indigeneity” reflected in the initial Council discussions were disrespectful. He addressed the concerns some councillors had regarding donating from SFSS’ deficit spending. This was brought up in October, where some Council members raised the question of the financial “burden” the donation would create on the SFSS budget. Hance responded that using deficit spendings is a viable option. “I think it’s a good way to show that we are backing what we’re saying,” in reference to their commitment to Indigenous reconciliation and territorial acknowledgements.

Nicole Kirigin, vice-president university and academic affairs, underwent consultation with SFU administration. She then proposed the alternative to make the donation in the form of a bursary instead at the October 26 meeting. On this, Hance noted Baran’s original motion to donate was brought up after consultation “with Indigenous individuals.” Citing the SFSS’ National Truth and Reconciliation statement, he was concerned the amendment to the motion demonstrated the SFSS “is not listening to us.” He explained replacing the original motion with a bursary would be a “Eurocentric” and “Western” way of focusing on individual needs. 

Hance said, funding a bursary “might help one or two students, but the whole point of a donation to each residential school survivor is that it amplifies their whole community, the generational trauma.” Through this, he advocated for a holistic approach and collective funding for the residential school survivors. He stated, “I think the viewpoint is a very limited, biased viewpoint [ . . . ] The whole point of truth or reconciliation is to listen to Indigenous voices. We are a community and we prefer this donation to the community.”

At the end of the interview, Hance called for greater education on the efforts of reconciliation for all SFSS councillors. “I do not like that they acknowledge and say, ‘it’s my international [background] or I’m not from here, I don’t know that much,’ Well, then you should have agreed to education and work towards education on these matters.” 

At the third Council meeting, on October 26, a donation of $6,400 was approved for this year. The motion that passed also included provisions for more education and workshops for SFSS councillors starting next year. 

The Peak reached out to SFSS president Helen Sofia Pahou for a statement, but did not hear back by the publication deadline. 

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