Native Students Union: providing an Indigenous space on campus

The Native Students Union (NSU) is a student-run organization dedicated to supporting Indigenous students on campus, and has two locations on campus: the basement of the Student Union Building (Room B023) as well as a small office in the First Peoples House. The University of Victoria sits on the unceded territories of the Lekwungen and W̱SÁNEĆ peoples. The NSU provides a supportive academic, cultural, and spiritual community for those with Indigenous ancestry. The union also offers many activities, such as lectures, feasts, and workshops that are free to the general public.

The organization began in the mid-1960s, and therefore holds the title of the oldest Native Students Union in Canada. Firekeeper of the NSU, Jessica Brown, notes, “this era was a time of hardship for Indigenous people with the Sixties Scoop and Residential Schools, so it was amazing that such activism began.”

Even 50 years later, Indigenous students at UVic still face racism and colonization issues. The NSU offers a safe space place for Indigenous students to consider identity, self-expression, decolonization, resurgence and the opportunity to be rooted in a community with other Indigenous students. This is especially necessary as the Indigenous population at UVic continues to grow, both from local and non-local nations. Such intertribal connections between students can be helpful for nation-to-nation building, as well as teaching individuals to feel proud of where they’ve come from.

On Feb. 23–28, the NSU held its largest annual event of the year: Indigenous Resurgence Week. Events throughout the week included an invasive plant pull in Beacon Hill Park, a lecture by Dr. Sharon Venne (a Cree lawyer who has worked for the United Nations), and an Indigenous Literary Intertribal featuring Victoria’s Poet Laureate, Janet Rogers. On the final night of the celebration, dozens of volunteers helped elders, Flo Elliot and Debbie George in the kitchen to prepare a feast complete with salmon, clams, and octopus. As Brown states, “We didn’t just host a feast, but it had a purpose to join [us] together as a community.”

Every Tuesday night at 6 p.m. in the SUB, Room B023, the Native Students Union holds meetings, where any undergraduate, graduate, or alumni student of UVic that is of self-identified Indigenous ancestry may come to voice their opinions on the NSU’s upcoming events and policies. Brown notes that “all hold weight in the conversation, not just the seven council members,” which thereby creates a welcoming atmosphere and open dialogue. Students can also become involved in the UVic Native Students Union by liking their Facebook page or coming to a NSU event. For those who are interested in the NSU, Brown advises that they join events with “an open heart.”

Recently, the NSU is held a talk sponsored by the UVSS Speaker Series, with guest Dr. Leanne Simpson. The talk took place March 26 at 1 p.m., in the Ceremonial Hall of First Peoples House. Simpson  is not only an instructor at the Centre for World Indigenous Knowledge at Athabasca University, but also a scholar, storyteller, and activist who will be talking about decolonization in her lecture, “Islands of Decolonial Love: Resurgent Bodies & Minds on the Land.” This will be followed by an evening of poetry with Dr. Simpson on March 27 from 6 – 9 p.m. in the same location. Simpson’s events touch on the core goals of the NSU: to provide a safe location for Indigenous students to have fun, share, and express themselves both in life and the Western academic world.

For more information, please contact the NSU Office Coordinator, Lissa Smith, at nsu@uvicnsu.ca.

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