Saint Mary’s University appoints advisory council on Indigenous affairs

Saint Mary’s University in Halifax has appointed a president’s advisory council on Indigenous affairs, calling it another stage in its commitment to reconciliation.

School president Robert Summerby-Murray said the university is committed to advancing support for Indigenous students and strengthening connections to the community.

He said the advice and guidance of the council will be a great resource for the university.

Last June, an Indigenous professor at Saint Mary’s, Sandra Muse Isaacs, had resigned in protest over what she called the university’s failure to “indigenize the academy” and confront the legacy of colonialism.

The university said members of the Indigenous affairs council will provide an external viewpoint for Indigenous supports on campus, and Indigenous issues facing the post-secondary sector.

Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade is one of the people who will serve on the Indigenous affairs council. (Brett Ruskin/CBC News)

It said the council will meet periodically throughout the year and provide a place for dialogue, insight and engagement.

The advisory council includes Millbrook First Nation Chief Bob Gloade; Donald Julien, executive director of the Confederacy of Mainland Mi’kmaq; and Pamela Glode-Desrochers, executive director of the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre.

It also includes Jarvis Googoo, director of health for the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nation Chiefs Secretariat and a member of the Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society; and Ann Sylliboy, the post-secondary consultant for Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewe.

“The appointment of the advisory council marks another stage in Saint Mary’s commitment to reconciliation and the university’s response to the federal report by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada,” the school said in a news release Thursday.

In June, Isaacs had said there was a lack of progress on the recommendations outlined in a report by a task force on Indigenous students struck in the wake of a student’s murder.

Loretta Saunders, a 26-year-old Inuk student researching missing and murdered Indigenous women, was killed in 2014.

Her murder appeared to serve as a catalyst for change at the small university. The task force recommended hiring Indigenous faculty and expanding Indigenous curriculum to “enhance the indigenization of the academy.”

The university has repeatedly said it is committed to the recommendations in the task force report.

Loretta Saunders died in February 2014 at age 26. She was studying criminology at Saint Mary’s University at the time of her death. (Facebook)

In addition to a new space for Indigenous students and a student adviser, Saint Mary’s said earlier this year it was creating curriculum on the history and culture of Indigenous people and incorporating territorial land acknowledgments and First Nations recognition in the school’s ceremonial practices.

The university also has a Mi’kmaw chief on its board of governors, raises the Mi’kmaw flag in partnership with elders and has awarded honorary degrees to members of the Mi’kmaw community.

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