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


Sunday, January 8, 2023

Time for another UBC apology.

Its’ time UBC’s senior administration apologize for claiming Indigenous ‘identity’ had no role in Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s appointment. Even if they might ‘technically’ be correct that it wasn’t a specific criteria for hiring, Turpel-Lafond very clearly appeared to have been directly targeted to lead the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre BECAUSE they were Indigenous and so very prominent.

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond (Aki-kwe), a renowned Indigenous Canadian judge, lawyer and advocate for children and Indigenous restorative justice, has joined UBC as the inaugural director of the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre (IRSHDC) and as a professor with the Peter A. Allard School of Law.

This was a project that was closely aligned with the president’s office and President Ono’s subsequent apology about UBC’s involvement in Residential Schools. 

The Media Relations statement that has remained the only official public statement from UBC has to be apologized for. 

Indigenous identity was not a criterion” for the positions Prof. Turpel-Lafond held at the university, said Matthew Ramsey, UBC’s director of university affairs. 

It’s instructive to reflect on Dr Kim TallBear’s response to this issue. TallBear was interviewed on CBC Vancouver's afternoon show, On the Coast, on Friday January 6, 2023.

CBC host Gloria Macarenko said that when the story first broke CBC asked UBC about Turpel-Lafond's Indigenous identity. UBC said identity had nothing to do with this hire. TallBear responded by explaining how and why universities want to hire Indigenous peoples and that while non-Indigenous people can do some of this work, Indigenous peoples bring a specific expertise. So of course universities pay attention to this, so of course a university would consider a person's Indigenous identity as relevant. She then closed by saying "I don’t believe [UBC ignored the Identity claim], does anybody believe that?" (CBC interview, Jan. 6, 2023. min 3:39-4:43).

That's the thing, none of us really believe the putative identity of the individual had nothing to do with their hiring. 

As much as I am taken aback by the story about this individual, my disappointment rests with the senior administrators who did the hiring and recruitment. My disappointment extends to the ones who okayed a statement that is hard to believe, especially when read against the statements announcing the appointment (which so clearly foreground Indigenous identity).

There is another issue here, the conceptual focus on individual identity. This mistaken focus misunderstands Indigenous sovereignty and citizenship and confuses it with settler society's fetishization of the individual. To focus on identity makes being indigenous ‘just another’ ethnicity, when it is not that at all. We need clear university processes to validate membership and citizenship in Indigenous Nations, especially in cases where jobs, awards, or student placement are linked to being a member of an Indigenous Nation.

Being Indigenous is to be connected, committed, and claimed. That is, a person is related in some manner through their own family and their own history to an existing First Nation. This person is involved in their community (or some part of it) and maintains active linkages. Their community of account itself acknowledges them as a member and claims the person as their own. People outside that intersection of 'c's might have Indigenous 'heritage' but, by this model are not Indigenous qua Indigenous. A non-Indigenous person may even be 'adopted' into a community, but they remain non-Indigenous. Neither is this about self-identification.

Would anyone take me seriously if I started wearing kilts and said I was Scottish (even if my last name is Scottish). Would they accept if I claimed to be Quebcois since my great grandfather on my mother's father's side came from Trois Rivieres. I might colour my past with stories of those origins but would it make me Scottish or Quebecois? I don't think so.

Through all of this UBC's leadership needs to to set aside their PR script writers and strategic communicators – none of whom seem to have a good understanding of Indigenous issues or realities- and speak with UBC's Indigenous community publicly and honestly without the protection of a scripted statement. They need to take on the institutional responsibility for what their predecessors did and atone for it. It's time they paid attention to their very own Indigenous Strategic Plan. We need an Indigenous-led process to ensure we never walk this particular path again.