AMS council kills Musqueam support motion

At last Wednesday’s AMS council meeting (the last one of the summer), the embattled external motion regarding the Musqueam native band finally came to its demise. This policy, which has been tabled repeatedly in past meetings, has gone through a few iterations and adjustments. AMS president Jeff Friedrich took on the task of rewriting it. In the end though, it wasn’t good enough. The motion failed the two-thirds vote.

The idea of creating an AMS policy expressing support for the Musqueam nation, on whose traditional territory UBC is situated, has been around for a while. The Musqueam have been in the treaty process with government regarding their claims for years. Last February, Mariana Payet, then the executive coordinator of student services of the AMS, brought forward a motion that acknowledged the Musqueam’s title over UBC, reading

Whereas the UBC Point Grey Campus is located on unceded Musqueam Territory; and

Whereas the AMS is housed in the Student Union Building located on the UBC Point GreyCampus; and

Whereas the Musqueam people have lived on this land since time immemorial;

Be it resolved that the Alma Mater Society officially recognize the Musqueam
people’s title over this land

This motion was tabled (neither passed nor failed): people weren’t comfortable with the legal ambiguities of students supporting the ceding UBC land to a private body. Some people simply didn’t see the point of creating a policy that had no action associated with it. Others disagreed with the intent of supporting Musqueam claims. The AMS president, Jeff Friedrich, asked that the motion be tabled so that consultation with campus aboriginal groups could be conducted, and so that wording could be adjusted to make it less controversial. [As a side note, he also said it was a "difficulty" that the motion came from the floor (as opposed to coming from the executive); I've heard Jeff make comments along those lines again, and am confused about them. What is "difficult", or (another favorite word) "tricky" about motions from the floor? On the contrary, the executive drives the agenda of council far too much, to the exclusion of motions from committees, caucuses, or god forbid, individual councilors.] But anyway, that’s what happened. Jeff consulted with the Aboriginal students’ association and another campus first nation group from the UBC First Nations House of Learning (the longhouse). He asked David Wells, the AMS policy analyst to help redraft the motion. Here’s what they came up with:

Whereas the UBC Point Grey Campus is located in the Musqueam people’s
traditional territory that was never ceded to the Crown; and

Whereas historical information provided by University information sources
indicates that this land was traditionally used by the Musqueam for
educational and defensive purposes; and

Whereas the Musqueam are currently engaged with the province in a
treaty negotiation process regarding the territory in question; and

Whereas recent court rulings suggest that the Musqueam have a strong
prima facie case for Aboriginal Title; and

Whereas it is acknowledged that any settlement resulting from the
current treaty negotiation process will likely not result in the loss of use
of this territory to the University of British Columbia for the purposes of
providing post-secondary education,

Therefore, be it resolved that the Alma Mater Society officially
recognize the Musqueam people’s legitimate claim to this territory; and

Be it further resolved that the AMS support a negotiated resolution
that will enable the territory in question to continue being a source of
learning and knowledge, both formal and informal, modern and traditional, UBC
and Musqueam,” and

Be it further resolved that the AMS support a negotiated settlement
regarding the disposition of the University Golf Course, which has been
acknowledged as being located on traditional Musqueam territory.

So basically, the AMS should recognize a claim that obviously (and legally) exists, and support a negotiation process that’s already well underway. In other news, the sun rose this morning. Not exactly radical – in fact, barely meaningful. The motion is so watered down, that it’s basically just a list of the government processes now underway with “we support” stuck before them. Opposition in council came from two directions. There were those people that were still uneasy about supporting the Musqueam claims. On the other hand, there were those that would not support a motion that, to paraphrase science councilor Tahara Bhate, merely supplied nice-sounding sound bites, but really only payed lip service to aboriginal issues – essentially the same thing government has done for hundreds of years with disasterous results.

There was fairly strong support for this motion though. In fact, more than half of council voted for it, but less than the two-thirds required. Darren Peets (B0G) spoke favorably of the motion as a goodwill gesture, arts councilor Nathan Crompton said that this motion didn’t prevent a true radical stance to be taken in the future, and Jeff Friedrich said that all the groups he consulted said the motion would be meaningful and welcome.

This particular failed effort highlights the difficulty of passing political external policies in the AMS. In this case, it went something like this: some people think some issue is important – they represent a particular side in a motion. Others think it’s irrelevant; others simply take a different political position. The motion is tabled since it clearly would have failed. It is revised to a less strident position to garner more council support; all meaning is lost. The motion fails anyway.

For background on Musqueam and its recent dealings with UBC, check out previous posts:
News item from the Globe and Mail
context and analysis by Tim


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