Mixed feelings as UBC cancels classes for Aboriginal event - Macleans.ca

Mixed feelings as UBC cancels classes for Aboriginal event

University wants participation in Truth and Reconciliation


UBC (Simon Hayter)

Daniel Bourghardt, a third-year arts student, was overjoyed when he got an email from the University of British Columbia on Sept. 9 saying classes will be cancelled on Sept. 18.

In a grand gesture of solidarity with First Nations communities, the university has called off classes to encourage students to participate in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s (TRC) national event at the Pacific National Exhibition across town from the Vancouver campus. It’s part of a Reconciliation Week that includes performances, survivor gatherings and a downtown march on Sunday with a keynote speech by Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King. Trinity Western University, a Christian school, is also suspending classes.

For many students, however, today is nothing more than a midweek break. “I only read the part that said we don’t have school,” says Bourghardt. He’s not planning to attend and will instead be spending the day catching up on assignments.

While he’s happy that classes are cancelled, not everyone thinks it was the right move.

The cancellation is meant to raise awareness about Canada’s residential schooling system. For those who don’t know, between 1875 and 1996, more than 150,000 Aboriginal children were shipped off to boarding schools as part of a Canadian government policy to assimilate Aboriginals into the dominant culture or, as some put it, “to kill the Indian in the child.” Many were physically and psychologically abused. A notable minority suffered sexual abuse. The TRC, established in 2008, aims to educate the masses about this tragic episode in Canadian history and to celebrate the people and culture that persevered in spite of these obstacles.

Peter Spencer, a first-year UBC law student says residential schools are an important issue but not worth suspending an entire day of classes. “They can encourage students to attend the hearings and maybe hand out pamphlets on campus to bring awareness to the issue,” he says, “but I’ve never heard of any university shutting down for something like this.” He thinks UBC should have asked students via referendum whether they wanted the cancellation.

“It’s a statement the university’s making and I don’t think it’s a big enough issue to do that,” he says. “I think there are bigger issues out there, so why single this one out?” he adds, suggesting the war in Syria is a worthy topic of discussion and no one is cancelling classes for that.

Jin Li, a UBC student from Shandong, China, sees the TRC’s prominence as a positive development. “We should acknowledge and welcome [the reconciliation process],” says the first-year commerce student, “so we can be more aware of Aboriginal culture,”

For Tabitha Schooner, in year three of a native teaching program, the TRC events are deeply personal. “My grandpa went to a residential school when he was young,” she says. “Native history is very important to me because it’s a contributing factor to a lot of First Nations issues today.”

She applauds UBC’s decision to cancel classes on Wednesday so that she won’t have to worry about missing lectures. “I strongly recommend [for] everyone to attend,” she says. “[Aboriginal history] plays a very big part in Vancouver,” she adds. “We’re actually standing on Musqueam territory.”

Though Bourghardt remains adamant he won’t attend due to his workload, he agrees reconciliation is worth talking about. “If you don’t discuss it, you’re going to make the same mistake again.”


Mixed feelings as UBC cancels classes for Aboriginal event

  1. It has nothing to do with sensativety it has everything to do with students knowing this whole issue is way overblown and a complete waste of time, oh I’m sorry, am I being insensative ?

    • No, you’re not insensitive, just ignorant. The issue is not overblown and highlights the cultural genocide and ethnic cleansing that the canadian government was involved in.

    • I can see why you disagree with the school closure, as you clearly missed your spelling class.

  2. If this event brings even a little peace to people who have suffered so much, I am in favour of it. If it educates just a few people who are willing to hear about it, then it’s worth it. There is scarcely anything that you or I can do about the crisis in Syria but we certainly can do something about our own home grown human rights crisis.

    Guess what? The Musqueam reserve is a 15 minute bus ride from UBC campus. Nestled among the million dollar homes is one of the poorest neighbourhoods that I’ve ever laid eyes on. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities there. Why not focus your energies there instead of worrying about despotic and interfering governments FAR FAR away that you will have ZERO influence on?

    YES, of course the apathetic majority will just see it as a day to catch up on school work or slack off, but I contend that those people DO NOT matter! This event should be catering to the people who WANT to hear and be heard. Those are the people who will affect change in this world. Those are the the people who need a day like today.

  3. We commend this gesture as a mark of respect for all who suffered and continue to bear the scars of injustice. We are perturbed by the unfolding details of the use of our fellow humans in scientific experiments. Thankfully this is at an end, although not timely for all those who suffered.

    We further urge the faculty and students of UBC and all other universities to call for an end to all harmful experimentation on living beings at their institutions. As taxpayers we deserve full disclosure of the extent of animal use at each publicly funded research and educational facility, the source and destiny of the animals, and then to be allowed to decide for ourselves whether these are indeed ‘publicly acceptable” standards.

  4. While I think it’s important to remember, I think a day off to focus on what is happening today in Aboriginal communities across Canada would be more valuable.

    How about handing out flyers to highlight how children today are being exploited and living in horrible conditions? Lets look at the true facts and realize what the real problem is so these kids can be saved. Oh wait, we can’t, were not allowed to speak as people like Terese Spence will go on a ‘diet’.