The appointment of the Indigenous representative of the St. Thomas University Students’ Union is causing concerns among students.
In an unexpected meeting on Oct. 12, STUSU announced Alexa Metallic as its new Indigenous representative. The appointment came after no students ran for the position in the fall byelection.
STUSU president Philippe Ferland said the student representative council was concerned about how it was going to get Indigenous representation. He asked the university’s Indigenous reconciliation committee, which is made up mostly of Indigenous students and a couple of non-Indigenous students, for recommendations.
The group met and recommended Metallic, who is also the chair of the committee.
“Knowing her, she’s very passionate,” Ferland said.
“She really wants to get into advocacy and activism, and this is kind of like her first chance to do that.”
Suspensions and amendments
STUSU bylaws allow the president to make recommendations for appointments of interim positions.
However, those bylaws also state if someone is appointed to an interim position, there must be an official byelection for the position two weeks later.
Due to time and cost, Ferland said the Union went through Title 18 of its constitution to suspend that bylaw until April 30, 2018, the end of the current academic year.
The absence of an official election and easily-suspended bylaws left students questioning the situation.
At a meeting on Oct. 19, Silas McDonald, a representative of Harrington House, said the appointment created “intrigue” among its residents.
“Although the person appointed for the position of Indigenous rep seems more than capable of doing the job … we find that the method for appointing her was unfair and kind of goes against the principles of equal opportunity that STUSU and STU’s campus tries to promote,” McDonald said.
He said some students are concerned the suspension of bylaws will affect the spring general election, allowing STUSU to appoint an entire council if it wishes.
Despite there being an open election for the position prior to Metallic’s appointment, McDonald said “it was the issue of principle.”
He said Harrington House residents would like to see another official byelection held and a restoration of the bylaws by the end of the semester.
Social inclusion representative Rebecca Kingston said she’s also heard concerns from students regarding the spring general election.
“Allowing the bylaws to be suspended until April 30 gives council the option of running our spring election or appointing a whole new council like we did Alexa,” she said.
“Some people are concerned about that. Even though, reasonably, it would never be done, it’s still a concern.”
On behalf of the governance committee, Kingston motioned to amend Title
18 in order to add a second section stating, “Any suspension of the bylaws regarding interim appointments shall have no force or effect on the next immediate election.”
House representatives continued to voice concerns about how easy it was to suspend the bylaws.
Vice-president education Brianna Workman said while the suspension was not ideal, it was the only legal way to go about the appointment.
She requested a motion to mandate the governance committee to come up with an official appointment process for non-executive positions to present to council by the first meeting in December.
Metallic said it’s been hectic trying to get familiar with her role.
“When I signed up [for the Indigenous reconciliation committee], I always knew I wanted to be involved with the community somehow,” she said.
“But I didn’t expect I would be chair and rep.”
Metallic is a fourth-year student from Listuguj Mi’gmaq First Nation in Quebec. She transferred to STU from St. Mary’s University in Halifax last year, where she said she felt “isolated.”
Metallic said there’s lots of opportunity to grow within the Indigenous community at STU. She spends much of her time in the Wabanaki Centre and is familiar with many students.
Metallic said she didn’t originally run for the position in the byelection because of a busy schedule and, like many others have said, “I thought there were others running who would be a great fit.”
She said she was surprised no one ran at all.
“I don’t think there was enough awareness about it actually, I don’t think many people knew about it.”
Ferland also said outreach was a factor, as well as the different conditions of Indigenous students at STU.
“They said, ‘We assumed someone else was going to do it,’” Ferland said.
“It happens with a lot of other positions.”
Last year, STUSU voted to remove the first-ever Indigenous representative Keyaira Gruben after she failed to attend a number of meetings. Ferland said negativity surrounding the position could have contributed to lack of participation as well.
However, he’s excited things are moving forward.
“This has kind of been a step toward building a positive image of the rep and also our relationship with the Indigenous community,” Ferland said.
“I’m so happy. Alexa is already so involved … The fact that we have a rep and a committee as well is amazing … That’s never happened in STUSU’s history.”
Now that she’s settling in, Metallic said she’s excited to get things started.
At the meeting, she told the SRC about the Canada 150 panel on Oct. 25, organizing blanket exercises, a lecture on cultural appropriation and showing a documentary titled We Were Children.
She’s also pursuing a project similar to the University of New Brunswick’s Breaking Stereotypes campaign, focusing on the Indigenous community.
“I’m really excited about the panel,” Metallic said.
“I’ve always had these ideas, I’m excited to bring them to life.”
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