ULFA Executive Statement About the Controversy on Campus

Dear Colleagues,

As most Members will be aware, there has been considerable and harmful controversy on campus in the past week concerning a guest lecture.

Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression are implicated in any difficult speech on campus. In this context, ULFA would like to highlight some of the things Members using their Academic Freedom are doing in the following few days to call out and counter unwelcome and hurtful speech and to protect students, colleagues, and community members.

The first and most important are the plans for same-day counter-programming, safe-spaces, peaceful protest, and elder-led prayer organized by the Institute for Child and Youth Studies and the Department of Indigenous Studies:

Location: TH201 (Turcotte Hall) and Zoom (pre-registration required)
Time: 4pm-7pm.
Tentative Schedule:

In addition to this Member-led initiative, the Board and University Administration are offering support to students, faculty, and community members through Counselling Services, Employee Family Assistance Program, Iikaisskini Indigenous Services, and  Elder in Residence program. Additional resources for immediate support include:

  • The 24/7 Crisis Support line of the Indian Residential School Survivors Society : 1-800-721-0066
  • The 24-hour National Indian Residential School Crisis Line: 1-866-925-4419

Beyond this, many individuals and groups on campus have made statements condemning Residential School Denialism or providing resources for teaching about Residential Schools and Truth and Reconciliation, including SNAC+, the Department of Indigenous Studies, and the University Administration.

These activities, too, are protected by Academic Freedom — which is not an unfettered right to say whatever you want, but rather a contractual right to “teach, engage in scholarly activity, and perform service without interference and without jeopardizing employment.” This right carries with it the duty “to use that freedom in a manner consistent with the scholarly obligation to base teaching, scholarly activity and service in an honest and careful search for knowledge.”

As scholars we are used to submitting our ideas to, and engaging in, peer evaluation. Exercising our right to call out work we consider to be of poor quality, misleading, or otherwise substandard is an important part of our Academic Freedom. As the admirable efforts of many of our colleagues on campus over the past week have demonstrated, it is through using our Academic Freedom to insist on such standards and to protect those who are harmed by careless and dehumanizing speech that the true value of the university as a place to learn, critique, and advance knowledge becomes apparent. 

Claims that equity and academic freedom are incompatible creates a false binary. In fact, research-based, open-minded academic investigation can and must promote and support communities who have historically been treated inequitably. Here are a few resources concerning the issue of Indian Residential Schools.

  • Prefatory to the talk by Sean Carleton, and for interested individuals who are not able to attend, there is a directly related article in The Conversation of 5 August 2021, co-authored by Sean Carleton and Daniel Heath Justice.
  • Canadian Geographic has a live online map of Survivor-led investigated burial sites.
  •  The TRC Calls to Action #76 stipulates the need to find and bring all missing and stolen children home to their communities.
  • Reports such as Dr. Scott Hamilton’s “Where are the Children Buried?” make clear that the discovery of unmarked graves is a long-term and research-based process.

Truth and Reconciliation is an ongoing project and acknowledging inequity, racism, and privilege is difficult and exacting work. It is only by insisting on such high standards that we can hope to advance our common goals. We state our solidarity with our Indigenous colleagues and students, with the Indigenous people of the Siksikaitsitapii (Blackfoot Confederacy) territory on which our University is located, and with the struggles for truth, acknowledgement and healing of all Indigenous peoples.

The ULFA Executive