Saturday, February 18, 2023

Interview with CBC's Daybreak North on Indian Status Cards

On air interview, Thursday, February 16, 2023.

Link to CBC audio clip.

[00:00:25.010] - Carolina

The all native basketball tournament is underway right now in Prince Rupert. But as we found out on yesterday's show, one young woman is being kept off of the court. 19 year old Stacy Edinger is not allowed to play for the old Massett women's team due to her status card number being connected to another village. This in spite of familial ties to Old Massett. Here's her coach, Len Arns, speaking yesterday on the program.


[00:00:51.940] - Len

It seems very unfair, especially for us to be under the status cards when our alaskan brothers don't have status cards. The Nisga don't have status cards, they have membership cards. That doesn't make them any less. It's a card issued by the Canadian government that shows us that this is our Indian number. We're not a name where number that's.


[00:01:18.900] - Carolina

Old Massett basketball coach Len Arns. Now, on the surface, status cards are a form of government issued ID, but their effect on people's lives can be much more significant. I'm joined with more by Charles Menzies, who's a professor at the University of British Columbia and a member of the Gitxaala First Nation. Good morning to you.


[00:01:38.110] - Charles

Good morning. And if you don't mind saying a shout out to all the people up there playing basketball, I wish I could be there in the stand watching it, or maybe one day I'll join the Masters team and play on the court again.


[00:01:49.140] - Carolina

Now, that would be wonderful to see. Charles, I'm sorry that you weren't here to be watching the games, but as you heard, some controversy this year over the idea of status cards, what does a status card represent to you?


[00:02:03.110] - Charles

That's a tough one because it's a recognition of where we're from and all that, but it's also an act of the government as part of a colonial legacy that brands indigenous people as being separate from the rest of society. Yet it also comes with a whole bunch of other recognitions of the government that actually owes us because of the historical legacy. So it's really conflicting and problematic. And of course, sometimes people, when you use the card in a place that you need to, sometimes they respond positively, sometimes they don't respond at all. Sometimes they're just pains in the backside about it.


[00:02:43.300] - Carolina

What's been your experience with using a status card?


[00:02:46.870] - Charles

Well, I think one time I tried to use it to vote in a provincial election. I remember actually going into the Dunbar Community Center and using the card for it, and then the fuss and things. They called somebody over to look at it. Then another person came over and back and forth. After a while, you see there that the line is getting longer and longer and longer, and everyone's kind of staring at you, staring at the card, looking at it, talking to each other. Finally, I just gave up and gave them my driver's license.


[00:03:14.230] - Carolina

And what was that like?


[00:03:16.190] - Charles

It was really unsettling. I didn't actually appreciate just how I'd feel about it. I was really taking aback. But I'll tell you, I haven't used it again for voting in the provincial elections.


[00:03:28.310] - Carolina

And why is that?


[00:03:30.690] - Charles

Because the trouble and the sort of whole nonsense to go through with that process, it's really it's kind of like you think, well, this is a low cost thing to do, but it's the emotional turmoil for doing it. I'll be quite honest, I was quite surprised. But it did remind me of a story my dad told about going to me about trying to get his glasses down here in the lower mainland. And he went into a store and he picked out his glasses and his frames and stuff like that. And then the optometrist said, okay, so how are you going to pay for this? And dad took out his status card, and the guy looked at him and goes, oh, no. And he reached below the countertop, pulled out a box, about half a dozen black frame plastic glasses. You choose one of these. My dad says, there's just no way I'm doing that. And so it's that kind of response to the way these things, how people respond? And I think the Union of BC Indian Chiefs did a study a while ago after the grandfather and his granddaughter were arrested and handcuffed at a bank in downtown Vancouver.


[00:04:38.520] - Charles

They did a study, and about 99% of the people they interviewed experienced some form of discrimination and prejudice for trying to use the card, which is a legal right to be able to use the card.


[00:04:51.340] - Carolina

I recall that report. It came out last fall from the Union of BC Indian Chiefs. But there's another part to this story, too, because in our history, and not very distant history, there were periods where status was withheld or stripped from certain people. So what are the consequences of not having a status number?


[00:05:13.380] - Charles

It gets really complicated back and forth. But one of the difficulties, too, is the whole realm of identity fraud that builds up and around these categories as well. When people I mean, the University of British Columbia just went through a situation with a fairly prominent individual who it turned out had not been honest about who they were and where they came from or any of that. So on one level, when things, when material resources count on these things, you really need to have some kind of documentation and proof about what's going on. At the other hand, there's people whose families have been disconnected and who are, have every right, to be part of the community, but may have lost some connection. And then, of course, not having this little piece of government issued paper, it's a problem. And there is no easy solution except to say communities need to have the authority and power to make these decisions. This is the academic of me coming back saying, but there needs to be protection for minority communities within our communities who might then be disenfranchised because of underlying discrimination internally as well. So there's no good solution for a problem created by a colonial system.


[00:06:28.080] - Carolina

And so how realistic would you say it is for the system to stay the way it is, moving forward, as you say, communities are changing?


[00:06:37.200] - Charles

Yeah, well, I think one of the things it was mentioned in the clip from the Haida coach about the different types of enrollment cards in Alaska or the Nisga citizenship cards. I think we need to move to an idea of membership or citizenship, not idea of this kind of old colonial label 'status.' That at least could be a first step to move in that kind of direction. I mean, and we've only really had the cards in their current variation kind of format since the mid 1950s, even though there was an Indian registry since sometime in the 1850s or 60s.


[00:07:12.780] - Carolina

How much appetite do you think there is to make a change to the status?


[00:07:20.620] - Charles

I think everyone I talk to says there's something should be done, and then when you say, well, then what should we do? People just kind of go, well, they're not sure. And it's almost as though it's better to have something that's bad than something that we don't know what it looks like, but doesn't mean we shouldn't try. I mean, I do think it's time for a change.


[00:07:39.140] - Carolina

I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to me about it today, Charles, and I look forward to seeing you when you're next in Prince rupert.


[00:07:46.260] - Charles

The same. And again, I say a big hello to all family and friends who are up there enjoying the games. And go warriors.


[00:07:55.000] - Carolina

All right. Thanks, professor.


[00:07:56.800] - Charles

Right, bye bye.


[00:07:57.860] - Carolina

Charles Menzies, a professor at the University of British Columbia, also a member of the Gitxaala First Nation. What has your experience been like using a status card? Have you had a negative experience? Maybe you've had a positive experience? You can share your story. Email us at daybreak north at CBC CA. You can also call us on our listener line that number 1-866-340-1932.


Thursday, January 19, 2023

Interview with CBC Radio, Jan 17, 2023.

Interview with CBC Radio, Jan. 17, 2023. 

I did an interview with CBC January 17th that contributed to a web story on that day and short news items the following morning. I also did a segment with CBC's On the Coast.

After reporters run their stories I like to be able to share the wider interview context, more details on what I said. Reporters have a limited space and time to convey stories that can be complicated and nuanced. They need to do this for wider audiences that may have only a rudimentary understanding of the particular issue.

The Jan 17th story ran with comments I made about the importance of face to face meetings between UBC's President, Provost, and Indigenous members of the university community. I also underlined that they should essentially host a dinner to make things right. Other Indigenous people I know who heard the news items understood exactly what I meant. Other folks, not necessarily. One good friend, who knew what I was saying, teased and said 'they will just think you want a free lunch!' 

I've highlighted below in the transcript the specific spaces where I talk about how to make things right. The reporter did a good job bringing these issues into their story. It's hard, though, for a wider community that is unfamiliar with Indigenous practices to understand these things beyond simplistic stereotypes. For those who want a longer film version on the importance of public witnessing and one version of it, click on the image below to watch a video from 20 years ago about a university project making sure Indigenous data is kept in community and returned properly.

Interview Transcript.

The reporter’s comments summarized to highlight questions asked. My comments lightly edited for clarity. The published story is linked here.


[00:01:49.050] - Reporter

[What was your reaction to [the] letter [from UBC Leadership] when you read it?]


[00:01:53.590] - Charles

I've been on public record of being disappointed in the silence of the university leadership. … I think it was high time for them to act. However, from where I'm from, and for many people who are indigenous in British Columbia, simply sending a letter in the email box and posting online is insufficient. The letter does indicate that they plan to create opportunities of engagement. But I think what they need to do is host a dinner or smorgasbord and bring people out and have them publicly express the sentiment in their letter and then have that witnessed by people standing up and explaining to them why their behaviour could have been better situated.


[00:03:09.210] - Reporter

[Question of personal/community response]. 


[00:03:17.550] - Charles

Well, I think it really starts with the statement came out in the middle of October, which said that METL was hired with no recognition or consideration of her indigenous, proclaimed Indigenous, identity. And that just felt like gaslighting to everyone. And I think that the shock of that, the implication of that. And it has reverberations. And then when the university did nothing for so long, for whatever reason, that also has reverberations because it sounds, and as the letter itself mentions, it gave the impression to everyone that they were actually being supportive of the situation rather than being considerate of Indigenous faculty, staff, and students.


[00:04:32.950] - Charles

Well, I think the silence is a problem. The fact that they've decided to finally step into the daylight and to start taking ownership of their decisions publicly is a positive sign. And I think that's really the kind of the primary message. I see. I can also appreciate that probably there's all kinds of lawyers in their circles telling them to say nothing. ... While I can appreciate their legalistic approach to things. I cannot appreciate the way it left all of us feeling left out to dry, as it were.


[00:05:46.670] - Reporter

 [What needs to be done to start to make things right?]


[00:06:01.970] - Charles

Every community has its own particular way of doing things. And so I can't speak for my cousins down in Musqueam, in the wider Salish world, but if you go back up the north coast and somebody makes a mistake or does something wrong that requires addressing, they host a dinner, they publicly acknowledge in front of witnesses the error that they've committed, and then they make recompense to the people who gathered to witness. And there's a traditional gift giving that occurs in that context. I'm not saying these guys [President & Provost] need to do that because they're part of a colonial institution, but I think before they start doing opportunities for engagement, I think they actually need to, at the very minimum, host of luncheon or dinner where they invite the indigenous community on campus and the partners into a space where they take ownership of their actions physically, in material terms, in terms of being there and being present.


[00:07:09.230] - Reporter

[Question on hiring practices.]


[00:07:19.710] - Charles

... The hiring of the prominent law professor was done at a targeted level, at a president's office level. There are many of us at the department level where most faculty are hired to do things completely different. We, in fact, already have an awful lot of processes in place. [At the department level] there are processes and policies at play, and when you have that kind of structured hiring where we normally do, it's a very different situation [than a targeted hire], it seems to me, from what I see, both my at own institution and across the country. The problems come when upper-level management get too eager to hire somebody who has some degree of prominence of some sort, and then things go by the [wayside].


[00:08:21.390] - Charles

My biggest concern is not so much the policies that got us to this place, the practices, but basically what they did once it became clear [misrepresentation seemed to be involved] and how that basically they didn't do things right at that point in time, ... I think the real issue here is what the university leadership did once it became known that things weren't quite right, weren't quite what they were presented as.


[00:09:19.750] - Reporter

[regarding returning honourary degree]


[00:09:44.640] - Charles

... I think that's appropriate [returning honourary degree], and I believe there's, like, eight to ten more to go.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Statement from UBC President and Provost (finally, three months after METL story broke)

A Message to UBC Vancouver Indigenous Faculty and Staff Members on behalf of the President and Vancouver Provost


To quote the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan, “Truth before Reconciliation” – all of our actions need to be based on a fundamental commitment to truth, to openness and transparency, and to humility. We know that this has been a difficult three months since the publication of the stories concerning Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond. We are deeply concerned that the issues raised and the university’s response have harmed the Indigenous community at UBC and our Indigenous partners outside the University. UBC’s initial response stated that Indigenous identity had not been an explicit requirement for the appointment of the Academic Director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre. While factually correct, it would have also been understood that it was an implicit expectation.  The press reported UBC’s initial statement as constituting support for Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, and the silence from UBC about that interpretation has been viewed as confirmation. We deeply regret the impact of this and promise to do more now, and in the future.


Let us state clearly that we recognize our engagement with the Indigenous community has not been adequate or sufficient to date, and we will strive hard to improve. We believe that we should have met more promptly with the UBC Indigenous community. As we note below, we are taking steps to do that now.


Over the past few months our President and Vancouver Provost have had discussions with Indigenous scholars and community members. Our leadership has also discussed the issues that have arisen from this incident with a few university leaders from across Canada.  We seek to learn from the experience of others, but we are aware that our approach to the issues of Indigenous identity at UBC will need to be grounded in the protocols and understandings of BC Indigenous peoples and reflect the community values of Indigenous colleagues across our two campuses, while also drawing on important work on these matters by Indigenous scholars across the country. 


While we have sought advice, we want to state emphatically that we take full responsibility for the actions and inactions of UBC in this matter. UBC has committed itself to advancing Indigenous scholarship and intellectual community at every level of the University: through the Indigenous Strategic Plan and its implementation, through our relationships with the Musqueam and the Syilx Okanagan Nation, through our commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and to the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.  All of this has been led by Indigenous colleagues, and it has required a process of building trust.  We recognize that recent months have been challenging on this front and we will do all in our power to grow that trust.  We want to make it exceedingly clear that UBC’s leadership is more committed than ever to fulfilling the Action Plan of our Indigenous Strategic Plan; to implementing the principles of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; and to Indigenizing wherever possible our programs, curricula, leadership and structures. 


The possibility that anyone might misrepresent themselves for personal and professional benefit, or that misleading credentials or publications might be submitted for employment, is one that we take extremely seriously, as these kinds of actions undermine the fundamental mission of a university, divert resources from deserving individuals and strengthen inequities. UBC is committed to scholarly integrity: we investigate allegations of misrepresentation and we engage in processes and procedures to address them. Going forward, as we assess our current approaches to hiring and to the role of Indigenous citizenship/status and truthfulness in hiring, we believe it is important to take the time to consider the complex issues and not to make presumptions or predeterminations about where these discussions will take us or what outcome we will arrive at. In the words of Senator Murray Sinclair quoted in our Indigenous Strategic Plan, “The road we travel is equal in importance to the destination we seek. There are no shortcuts.  When it comes to truth and reconciliation, we are forced to go the distance.” We will make sure that discussions on these issues are led by the Indigenous community in a fashion of their own choosing.


In the very near future, we will be in touch about setting engagement opportunities for both of us to hear from Indigenous faculty and staff, something we see as central to our accountability.  We do not expect this letter to solve any of the problems that we face – we see it as a step along a path towards meaningful action in the future.  We will follow up with engagement with Indigenous students, as we are painfully aware of the toll that this has taken on students as well.  


Although this message is directed to colleagues at UBC Vancouver, the President along with the Principal and Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Provost of the UBCO campus will engage with Indigenous faculty and staff at the Okanagan campus.


The UBC Vancouver campus is proud to be located on the traditional, ancestral and unceded territory of the Musqueam people, and this relationship inspires us to make our campus one where Indigenous faculty, staff and students feel respected, valued, safe, and heard. 


We respectfully acknowledge the Syilx Okanagan Nation and their peoples, in whose traditional, ancestral, unceded territory UBC Okanagan is situated.




Deborah Buszard

President and Vice-Chancellor


Gage Averill

Provost and Vice-President Academic, Vancouver Campus