Correction and clarification: The Aquinian is working on a correction and clarification of this story. The Aquinian received false information and the Indigenous representative position was in fact filled for the entirety of the last academic year. There are other details concerning the history of the position The Aquinian is working on clarifying as well.
After a year of vacancy, the Indigenous student representative position on St. Thomas University Students’ Union will be filled by first-year STU student Leanne Hudson. She will also sit on the STU Senate Committee on Reconciliation, along with Indigenous student Justice Gruben.
Hudson, who is Mi’kmaq and from Acadia First Nation in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, said having a representative on the students’ union and throughout campus is important to the Indigenous community.
“Voices have been ignored for so long,” said Hudson.
“There’s been so much discrimination that it’s really exciting to see STU and the student union taking this extra accommodation essentially to allow Indigenous people to have their voices heard.”
Hudson said it’s exciting to be that voice for her community.
Before September 2018, STUSU’s constitution stated the Indigenous representative was to be elected in the fall byelection.
However, in the summer of 2018, STUSU president Brianna Workman and vice-president administration Husoni Raymond at the time, changed the policy so that STU’s Indigenous community could choose their representative however they wish to.
In September 2018, the student representative council voted in favour of the policy change.
The process of selecting the Indigenous representative has faced controversy since it was first open to students in the 2016-17 fall byelection.
In 2017, STUSU voted to remove the first-ever Indigenous representative Keyaira Gruben after she didn’t attend “a number of meetings.” The decision was later “deemed invalid” after the council did not follow the rules of the removal process in STUSU’s constitution.
According to a 2017 Aquinian article the next year, former St. Thomas University Students’ Union president Philippe Ferland asked the university’s Senate Committee on Reconciliation for recommendations after the student representative council was concerned about how it was going to get Indigenous representation.
In the 2017-18 academic year, STUSU nominated Alexa Metallic for the Indigenous representative. It was the first year in STU’s history to have both an Indigenous representative on the Student Representative Council and Senate Committee on Reconciliation.
“When I signed up [for the Indigenous reconciliation committee], I always knew I wanted to be involved with the community,” said Metallic in an Oct. 23, 2017 article.
According to now STUSU president, Husoni Raymond, an Indigenous representative was selected for the second part of the 2018-19 academic year but he was unable to speak as to why someone was not chosen earlier in the year.
A voice for the community
Hudson found out about the position through STUSU President Husoni Raymond, who went to one of the Wabanaki Centre’s weekly lunches and announced it was available.
During the nomination process, people anonymously put others’ names forward and the community came to an agreement through an informal conversation during one of their weekly lunches, where about 15 people attended.
Hudson said it felt rewarding that other people nominated her for the position.
“It is a huge responsibility of representing the Indigenous community here at STU,” she said.
Hudson said there is a lot of advocacy work that needs to be done before planning events becomes her priority.
Hudson’s main goal is to get Indigenous students involved on campus as much as possible. She said she’s heard from other Indigenous students that they don’t know what events are taking place on campus.
“That’s part of why I’m so motivated to make sure that they do know, so people can attend these events and so Indigenous people are represented at every event at STU,” she said.
Hudson said that as an Indigenous student, she was unsure how herself and other Indigenous students at STU would be accepted and perceived by other students, faculty and administration. But so far, she’s happy STU has been extremely welcoming to her and she loves the feeling the Indigenous community provides.
“They’re very tight-knit, very accepting. We have the craziest conversations, but they make me feel at home,” she said.
This past weekend, she attended a conference in Ottawa hosted by the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations that looked into what supports are necessary to increase the success of Indigenous students within post-secondary education.
She said it’s important to the Indigenous community to feel welcomed and part of the society, be it on campus or New Brunswick.
“I’m happy the position exists,” she said.
After STU, Hudson wants to go into public relations. She said, as an Indigenous person, it’s important to teach younger children and young adults they can pursue their dreams.
“As a form of reconciliation, education is crucial to advancing and educating our future generations,” she said.
With files from Jerry-Faye Flatt