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34 professors pen letter criticizing U of R’s lack of engagement with Indigenous voices

Faculty from the University of Regina have penned an open letter to the university's administration.
Faculty from the University of Regina have penned an open letter to the university's administration. File / Global News

More than 30 professors at the University of Regina have penned an open letter to the heads of the university asking them to repair their relationship with the Indigenous community.

The letter comes after what they call a “breakdown in trust and reciprocity” between the university’s administration and the on- and off-campus community.

In total, 34 professors from the faculty of arts, education, science and business signed the letter including those from Campion College, La Cité Universitaire Francophone and the First Nations University of Canada.

Four others expressed their desire to sign the letter but didn’t because they were concerned it would jeopardize their position at the university.

In the letter – dated Feb. 12 – the faculty is critical of the university’s handling of the events surrounding the George Elliot Clarke lecture.

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The poet had been invited by the faculty of arts to deliver the Woodrow Lloyd Lecture. Clarke, who has Indigenous ancestry, was to deliver a lecture titled “Truth and Reconciliation’ versus the Murdered and Missing: Examining Indigenous Experiences of (In)Justice in Four Saskatchewan Poets” on Jan. 23, which led to a barrage of complaints stemming from his collaborative work with convicted killer Steven Kummerfield.

Faculty members said significant time was invested in getting the administration to understand the stakes and ramifications of its actions and statements regarding Clarke’s scheduled lecture, which he eventually cancelled himself.

“The administration was warned by multiple different constituencies who are part of and connected to Indigenous communities about the real harm that the lecture would cause,” reads the letter.

“Knowledgeable and respected voices were repeatedly dismissed prior to the media frenzy and were only engaged after the story had exploded in the media.”

In response to the cancelled lecture, Matriarchs on Duty held a campus event on Jan. 23 titled “Speaking For Ourselves” which highlighted voices from Indigenous women. Administration were invited to the event which had called for an apology from the university regarding Clarke.

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According to the letter, two members of the administration responded to the invite — outgoing President Vianne Timmons and the Associate Vice President of Teaching and Student Analytics Fay Patel.

“The families and friends of missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, and two-spirit people have shared their indignation about the University’s actions and responses and its lack of engagement,” reads the letter.

“We join our voices to theirs in arguing for the need to reform the administrative and academic culture at the University of Regina and for the need to repair the harm that has been done.”

READ MORE: George Elliott Clarke withdraws from U of R lecture amid controversy

In the letter, the faculty members call for “an academic culture that doesn’t pit academic freedom against the inclusion of Indigenous people and perspectives,” adding that invited guests of the university should strive to further – not undermine – the university’s relationships.

“How can we expect students to want to study and feel a sense of belonging to the University of Regina when our actions harm them and their communities?”

Click to play video 'Balancing freedom of expression, truth and reconciliation a challenge: U of R president' Balancing freedom of expression, truth and reconciliation a challenge: U of R president
Balancing freedom of expression, truth and reconciliation a challenge: U of R president – Jan 8, 2020

They say the events around Clarke’s lecture are a symptom of a larger breakdown in trust and reciprocity between leaders of the university and their diverse constituencies.

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“This problem is not limited to the university’s relationship to Indigenous peoples.”

The letter ends with the faculty asking the university to listen to those affected by their decisions.

“Those of us with relationships with Indigenous communities have had to answer for decisions and words that were not our own; we ask that you join us in good faith in this work of repairing and bettering relationships,” says the letter.

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The university says they will be discussing the letter with faculty at a Feb. 26 executive of council meeting.

A spokesperson for the university told Global News they feel their response needs to be addressed with faculty first. They said they will provide further comment following next week’s meeting – which isn’t open to the public.

Global News reached out to numerous members of the faculty, who were off for reading week — no one was available.

The full letter can be read in its entirety here.