Dear Members of the UBC GSS community,
On May 27th, 215 Indigenous children were found buried at the site of the former Kamloops Residential School in Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc First Nation territory. This school was one of the largest institutions in Canada’s residential school systems and was opened under Roman Catholic administration in 1890. In 1969, the federal government overtook the operation from the church to operate as a day school until it closed in 1978. This discovery continues to be devastating for Indigenous peoples and for non-Indigenous people of Turtle Island. It is believed that these children’s deaths were undocumented and are part of the other missing and murdered Indigenous women and children across the nation.
The GSS is run by and for the graduate students at UBC Vancouver, which includes members of all backgrounds and identities. Our fellow Indigenous students are valued community members and it is our responsibility to provide and protect safe and inclusive environments on campus and in virtual spaces. While the University has stated that there is an “aware[ness] of the community concerns relating to the honorary degree,” and that the “issues raised are deeply upsetting,” this response does not feel appropriate for this level of devastation. It is the responsibility of all UBC staff, faculty, associates, students and community members to ensure that we are using the language that emphasizes the gravity of the situation. At the GSS, we refuse to accept delayed responses to this matter and we will push for reconciliation in accordance with the consultation of Indigenous UBC community members.
Therefore, in the spirit of true reconciliation with our Indigenous community, the UBC GSS would like to call upon the Vancouver Senate Tributes Committee to revoke the 1986 honorary degree conferred to John O’Grady, who was principal at the Kamloops Residential School from 1939 to 1952, and for the University to consult with Indigenous UBC community members to address their needs, concerns and desires. We at the GSS offer our sincerest apologies and stand with Indigenous families and communities across the nation. Furthermore, we would like to also call for further investigations into all honorary degrees conferred by UBCV and UBCO to current and past recipients in order for the University to commit to the accountability and responsibility needed for creating and sustaining safe, inclusive, and equitable communities.
It is difficult to begin to understand how our students have been adversely affected by the recent news. However, the GSS believes that the patriarchal and colonial systems that underlie the university institution must be approached through decolonization, beginning with consultation of Indigenous communities across Canada. The GSS is committed to decolonization and reconciliation through our work, support, and service to the UBC community and broader society.
Graduate Student Society of UBC Vancouver
Photo credit: Global News