Dear Dr. Santa Ono,
We are writing this letter to demonstrate our opposition to the reinstatement of John Furlong as the keynote speaker at the University of British Columbia’s upcoming 18th Annual ZLC Millennium Scholarship Breakfast on February 28, 2017. As both Indigenous and settler students studying at UBC on the unceded, ancestral, and traditional lands of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam) peoples, we are deeply troubled by your decision to reinstate John Furlong as the keynote speaker. This action affirms him as an important contributor to athletics in Canada while neglecting survivor testimonies that state he abused Indigenous youth at the Immaculata (Residential) School near Burns Lake, BC, in 1969-1970.
As many Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars, writers, artists, and activists at UBC and across the nation have explained in their work, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has only begun to articulate the deep-seated and present day manifestations of settler colonialism. We recognize your decision to not only invite but celebrate this man at UBC to be completely in opposition to the foundational efforts of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada. This act is also a direct assault on the contributions made by Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars at UBC and across Canada who identify the ongoing colonial violence of institutions such as UBC as obstacles to Indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. It is essential to understand that your choice to re-invite John Furlong not only displays a visible disregard for the sexual safety of students on campus, but also, like residential schools, communicates that violence is justifiable when enacted by colonial figures on Indigenous bodies.
On September 12th, 2016, you spoke at the First Nations House of Learning in Sty-Wet-Tan Hall to announce that construction had begun on the Indian Residential School History and Dialogue Centre, located across Main Mall from Koerner Library and the Office of the President. In this speech, you stated that with the construction of the IRSHDC, UBC is committing itself “to assisting survivors and communities in navigating the extensive and complex archives of the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission] and we are dedicated to providing curricular support and public information about this complex and important history […] This will help to form the basis for more productive interactions in the future.” By reinstating Furlong as the keynote speaker at the upcoming Scholarship Breakfast, you have violently silenced the voices of survivors and deeply troubled the commitment you made on behalf of the UBC community to the survivors of Canada’s residential schools, some of whom are likely attending our university. There is nothing ‘productive’ about your decision, rather it is a decision that condones violence against Indigenous peoples by erasing their voices. If we, as a campus, are truly going to be able to have productive and healing conversations under the banner of Truth and Reconciliation, we must start with listening to the peoples most affected by Canada’s colonial past and present. UBC has a responsibility to uphold and respect relationships with Indigenous peoples, specifically stated in the memorandum with xʷməθkʷəy̓əm. In this time of truth and reconciliation, it is of utmost importance that these relationships take priority. As students attending UBC, we expect better guidance from our president.
Concerned UBC Students
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