On behalf of the 56,000 undergraduate and graduate students of the University of British Columbia, the Alma Mater Society (AMS) solemnly expresses its profound regret that in our 100+ year history, the Society has not made serious efforts to advance reconciliation or recognize Indigenous rights. As an organization comprised primarily of non-Indigenous students, the AMS has been slow to challenge settler privilege, undo systems of colonization, and thoughtfully engage with Indigenous peoples, including Indigenous students and the Musqueam Indian Band, upon whose territory we operate. The AMS should have long ago begun to meaningfully address relations with Indigenous peoples. This statement of apology is intended to be an inflection point from which the AMS commits to genuine reconciliation, respect for Indigenous rights, and recognition of our position as guests on this land.
Canada’s history of colonization has been accurately characterized by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) as “cultural genocide,” which the TRC described as “the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group.” This deliberate attempt to deny and erase the lives, presence, and cultures of the original peoples of what is now called Canada occurred not just through the system of 139 residential schools, but through national and provincial laws and an unofficial racialized hierarchy that continues to shape Canadian society. This statement of apology cannot elaborate each and every wrong that Indigenous peoples have suffered in Canada or in British Columbia. However, we highlight Canada’s long history of broken treaties, its failure to recognize Indigenous territorial rights, the Sixties Scoop, many provisions of the Indian Act, and the unequal access to basic services on so many First Nations reserves as some of the most significant laws, policies, and practices that have sustained Canada’s system of genocide.
Organizations like the AMS that do not take action in the face of such severe and systemic marginalization and oppression are complicit by omission.
Here at UBC, the AMS is deeply sorry that it has not made a concerted effort to foster a campus that is inclusive of Indigenous students. For most of the AMS history, we have not been a strong voice for augmenting Indigenous enrolment, for increasing scholarships to Indigenous people, and for expanding curricula to include Indigenous content and epistemologies. Although student societies have only an indirect role in the operations of the University, it is within our mandate to advocate for students. In this regard, we have generally failed to represent Indigenous students at UBC.
With respect to the AMS’ use of the thunderbird image and name, the permission granted in 1948 by Chief William Scow of the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis First Nation (part of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation) has never been revisited. The AMS has assumed that the authorization was granted in perpetuity; however, we should have consulted with the Kwikwasut’inuxw Haxwa’mis people about continued use of the thunderbird, and will create such opportunity to discuss further use.
The AMS has only recently instituted a practice of recognizing that we are working and meeting on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral territory of Musqueam people. Yet, the AMS has not significantly engaged with the Musqueam Indian Band; nor have we spent much time reflecting on what territorial acknowledgment means. The AMS believes that these conversations should have already taken place, and commits to initiate deeper conversations with the Musqueam, including the possibility of an agreement with the Band, considering our ongoing presence on their territory.
A review of our archives reveals that the AMS’ efforts to include Indigenous students within the structure of the student society have been limited. During the 1990s, the AMS established a non-voting seat on Council, but that was filled for only one year, and then eliminated in 2000. In 2004-2005, the AMS proposed creating a voting seat on Council for an Indigenous student, but the February 2005 referendum failed because it did not obtain 3/4 majority require for bylaws amendment (5390 voted for and 2619 against the referendum). In 2014, the AMS created an Aboriginal Commissioner position, but wasn’t hired after 2017. Most recently, early this year the AMS endeavoured to create an Indigenous advisory group to hear from Indigenous students. Those discussions led the AMS to convene a discussion circle with the goal of gathering ideas from Indigenous students and groups about how to better structure the Society in a manner that includes them. The AMS is committed to implementing structural changes that Indigenous students say are important for their effective participation.
The AMS is committed to challenging our colonial traditions and learning how we can create a more inclusive Society with broader representation and participation of Indigenous students. We hereby commit to establishing a meaningful and reciprocally beneficial long-term relationship with Indigenous students at UBC. We fully realize that there is much that we do not know, and we hope that Indigenous students will work with the AMS to identify inclusive steps forward.