By Tara Deschamps
Idle No More’s push for indigenous rights is making headlines, but Ryerson students and staff aren’t taking advantage of the spotlight.
The movement that encourages support for aboriginal rights and respect for treaties has sparked little conversation on campus. With the exception of a “teach-in” event scheduled for Jan. 28 (organized by the Ryerson Students’ Union and Aboriginal Student Services) students haven’t taken up the cause.
Cyndy Baskin, a social work professor who is also the chair of Ryerson’s Aboriginal Education Council, said although members of Ryerson’s aboriginal community have talked about Idle No More’s message, nothing has been formally organized.
“The idea is up to [students] to go and do it,” said Baskin, who is of Mi’kmaq and Celtic descent. “Our job is to be inclusive of everyone but not take a stand that excludes.”
The council’s website states its purpose is to participate in the development of “a new relationship of truth and reconciliation between aboriginal and non-aboriginal people at Ryerson and in the community at large,” but the council has only been through informal talks about Idle No More’s place at Ryerson.
Baskin acknowledged the possibility that the Ryerson community isn’t well-educated about aboriginal issues because they’re not brought to peoples’ attention. Busy schedules conflict with opportunities to learn and some believe aboriginal matters do not affect them.
“It’s important for students to ask for content because there’s sometimes a lack of understanding surrounding aboriginal issues,” she says. “If they have accurate information, students can make good decisions and educate themselves.”
However, two Ryerson professors in the department of politics and administration – Pamela Palmater and Hayden King, who both have ties to the Centre for Indigenous Governance at the university – have become prevalent voices in a sea of Idle No More controversy and commentary.
Palmater has become a spokesperson for the movement, while King turned to Reddit to take part in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) forum on Idle No More, the Indian Act and other questions about indigenous laws and culture.
In one response, King emphasized the importance of non-discriminatory education to reduce confusion about First Nations relationships with Canada.
“‘We are all treaty people,'” King wrote, referencing Justice Sidney Linden.
Caitlin Davey, a second-year clinical psychology student whose family is of Mohawk origin, said schools could be doing more – like putting a bigger focus on aboriginal content in curriculums – to better educate students on indigenous issues.
Idle No More’s coverage has given her hope that the Ryerson community will adopt an even greater interest in indigenous culture.
“We can promote harmony if we understand one another, and it would be nice to correct myths and stereotypes,” Davey said. “That’s why I’m so excited by Idle No More because I hope it will encourage [an] understanding between aboriginal and non-aboriginal peoples.”
The Dalhousie Gazette reports Dalhousie University’s Idle No More teach-in drew more than 400 people on Jan. 10.