Saskatchewan

FNUniv students call for apology from U of R over poet controversy

The event was created after a controversial decision event was planned at the University of Regina.

Students association held smudge walk to promote peace and healing

Taryn Acoose and Amanda Leader from the First Nations University Student Association helped organize a smudge walk around the campus the school shares with the University of Regina. Some of the members of the association want the U of R to apologize after recent controversy over a scheduled lecture. (Alex Soloducha/CBC)

Some students at the First Nations University are calling for an apology from the University of Regina after controversy over a lecture originally scheduled for Thursday night.

The First Nations University Student Association held a smudge walk around the campus it shares with the U of R this morning.

The event was planned after the University of Regina invited George Elliott Clarke to speak at the Woodrow Lloyd Lecture. 

In December, there were calls for the lecture to be cancelled because Clarke had edited poetry for Steven Kummerfield, who was convicted of manslaughter in the beating death of Regina woman Pamela George in 1995. Clarke told CBC that he wasn't ruling out reading Kummerfield's work during the lecture.

We just wanted to cleanse all the negativity from the university.- Taryn Acoose, president of the First Nations University Student Association

Clarke later apologized to members of George's family, said he would not read any of Kummerfield's poetry at the event and, the following day, cancelled the lecture completely

Taryn Acoose, president of the FNUniv student association, said some of her peers and supporters from outside of the association and the school are calling for an apology from the U of R. 

"This is all just about having a discussion. We're not trying to slander or be rude to anybody," Acoose said. "It's just...acknowledge that there was a mistake made. And how do we make it better? How do we move forward in a good way?"

Acoose said the smudge was scheduled to take place the day of George Elliot Clarkes Lecture regardless of whether he spoke or not. She said it was meant to be a "peaceful gesture just to demonstrate and promote healing." Pictured are drummers leading the walk. (Alex Soloducha/CBC)

Acoose said she's proud that her student association has been in talks with the U of R and has received some informal acknowledgement. The president of URSU and a representative of Vianne Timmons were both at the walk Thursday afternoon. 

"This is just a peaceful gesture just to demonstrate and promote healing," said Acoose. "We just wanted to cleanse all the negativity from the university.

"These are small acts of reconciliation and healing that we can all practice in our own lives."

Acoose said she has classes with a member of Pamela George's family who said they were willing to welcome George Elliott Clarke. 

George's daughter Chelsey, and other members of her family, took part in the walk along with students and other people who have lost a missing or murdered loved one. Acoose said it was powerful to see everyone come together.

"I almost cried," said Acoose."I'm on my own healing journey and we all have that trauma, but you know, we need to start opening up that it's OK to acknowledge those traumas."

Chelsey George was brought on as one of the guest speakers at Thursday night's event, Speaking for Ourselves, held at the FNUniv by the group Matriarchs on Duty.  

Pamela George's daughter Chelsey (far right), and other members of her family, took part in the walk on Thursday morning. Chelsey was brought on as one of the guest speakers at Thursday night's event Speaking for Ourselves held by the group Matriarchs on Duty.   (Alex Soloducha/CBC)

Chasity Delorme said they came up with the idea to give women the opportunity to perform songs, poetry and speak at the open mic.

Delorme said she and other women were talking before the cancellation of the lecture and decided to take things into their own hands.

"That's kind of where the seed was planted," Delorme said. 

The name for the group of organizers was inspired by the traditional role of women in Indigenous society, according to Delorme.

We are also reclaiming our space within our communities and taking on the responsibility of protecting our community.- Chasity Delorme

"Historically it was the women who oversaw what happens in the community. Although we had male chiefs to represent us — it was always the women who made decisions," she said. "So we are also reclaiming our space within our communities and taking on the responsibility of protecting our community."

Chasity Delorme is from the Cowessess First Nation in Saskatchewan. (Piyêsiw Iskwêw/Facebook )

Delorme said the U of R should never have invited Clarke to give the lecture. 

"It's unfortunate that the committee who selected him didn't do their research," she said. "Even when they did find out the connection, their lack of empathy is still actually what the community is hurting from."

She said truth and reconciliation should have superseded academic freedom of speech in this case.

"An entire community lost their faith in the University of Regina."

About the Author

Alex Soloducha is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan.

With files from Joelle Seal and Heidi Atter