New SFU policies further reconciliation with Səlilwətaɬ

Indigenous faculty and representation promote a more equitable SFU community

Koi pond at SFU
PHOTO: Kriti Monga / The Peak

By: Olivia Sherman, News Writer

On September 6, Səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh Nation) and SFU agreed on terms, policies, and protocols to uphold tenets of reconciliation. The goal of their new partnership is to collectively foster a welcoming, equitable environment for Indigenous students and staff. Səlilwətaɬ will provide consistent guidance to SFU through annual meetings. These policies are in correlation with the Reconciliation Agreement SFU pledged in 2022, which includes 34 Calls to Action

“As an Indigenous government, education is a core value of Səlilwətaɬ,” said Səlilwətaɬ Chief, Jen Thomas, during the ceremony. The partnership ceremony was hosted at SFU’s Indigenous Garden. Thomas continued, “This agreement with SFU symbolizes a significant shift in our relationship, one that is based on mutual respect, true inclusivity, and collaboration to advance our respective goals together.”

Some of the policies SFU and Səlilwətaɬ agreed upon are the implementation of Hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ (Halkomelem) language in materials, departments, acknowledgements, and curricula at SFU. Public signage is to be altered to include Indigenous languages as well. The “Walk This Path With Us” report suggests a signage campaign is “desperately needed for all visitors and members of the SFU community.” The report used the example of the Sea to Sky Highway, which includes both English and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) place names. They also developed new student and staff recruitment initiatives and support for Səlilwətaɬ students.

“We are thankful to be developing a stronger relationship with SFU, which will include meaningfully increasing Səlilwətaɬ’s presence within all areas of SFU for the benefit of past, present, and future generations,” Thomas continued. 

In addition to these new policies, the BC Human Rights Commissioner (BCHRC) approved the request to preferentially hire 15 new Indigenous staff and faculty members at SFU. The aim of preferential hiring, or special programs, is to consciously be more inclusive toward marginalized groups. The Human Rights Code allows “any person or organization to run a program or activity” that only includes certain identity groups, as long as the objective is to improve conditions for systemically oppressed groups. This will allow SFU to hire people only from Indigenous communities. This is not considered illegal discrimination under the Code as long as the BCHRC designates them as special programs.

The BCHRC explains “colonial policies continue to add to large gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people,” especially in post-secondary education. As such, they proposed “a special program to benefit Indigenous peoples where Indigenous candidates are preferentially hired in a school district to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous students.” 

This decision fulfills Call to Action 16, which aims for “each academic unit to have at least one Indigenous scholar,” and Call to Action 20, which requires “Aboriginal participation and decision-making” to be increased at every level at SFU, such as the Senate. The preferential hiring of Indigenous members is similar to their approval over this summer to hire 15 new Black faculty. 

The Peak reached out to the media contact for the Səlilwətaɬ Nation for interviews, but did not receive a response by the publication deadline. The Peak also reached out to SFU administration for an interview, but they declined to speak.