CUSA debates cutting Indigenous centre space

The Carleton University Students’ Association (CUSA) is considering removing its designated Indigenous service centre space, the Mawandoseg Centre, and moving the centre’s co-ordinator to the university-run Ojigkwanong Centre.

CUSA president Zameer Masjedee said the proposal would save the association rental costs for the centre, which would be reinvested into programming. According to him, it doesn’t make sense for Indigenous services to be split between two different student centres.

“Ultimately, we thought that this way, it would be better serving all students for the services that they’re looking to get out of each of these centres,” Masjedee said.

According to CUSA’s website, Mawandoseg is the “leading point of contact for non-Indigenous students looking to connect and learn more about Indigenous cultures and histories.” In comparison, Ojigkwanong’s website said it “is open to the campus community to learn about and practice First Nations, Inuit and Métis cultures, traditions and worldviews.”

Masjedee said CUSA found that previous Mawandoseg co-ordinators ended up spending much of their time outside of their designated office space.

“This office was more like an on-map sort of thing than it was an actual space where students were coming because they wanted to get the student services the Mawandoseg provided,” he said.

Masjedee said that the Mawandoseg co-ordinator is currently located in a communal space in CUSA’s communications office because Mawandoseg’s office space has been turned over to the International Students’ Centre.

The move would see the Mawandoseg co-ordinator move from an assigned office to an open space in the communal area in the Ojigkwanong Centre.

According to Masjedee, the proposal to move the co-ordinator to Ojigkwanong has been met with contention from students but he said “nothing has been finalized.”

“We ran into some issues and they [Ojigkwanong] said there were space concerns and these other things. We felt that there was a misunderstanding between our requests and what they understood them to be . . . We were just asking for them to be able to use that communal space where any student can go and use,” Masjedee said.

Ashley Courchene, CUSA’s former vice-president (student services) and former Mawandoseg co-ordinator, said a change would deny Indigenous students a separate space from Carleton’s administration. According to him, the proposal has not adequately been discussed with the Indigenous community on campus.

“We see these types of actions partaken by Canadian governments and corporations who feel that they can do what they like without the active participation of native people or informing them about decisions that affect them,” Courchene said.

He said that Mawandoseg welcomes non-Indigenous people who want to learn more about Indigenous cultures, whereas Indigenous students view Ojigkwanong as a safe cultural space.

“There’s a lot of students that don’t want to feel like they’re part of a museum piece . . . They want to study, they want to hang out with their friends,” Courchene said.

He added that because Ojigkwanong is an administration-run centre, students would miss out on leadership opportunities.

“We need those opportunities to develop ourselves, which in turn will help our community, so by removing the office and minimizing the space to a laptop and a table, those opportunities are suddenly limited,” Courchene explained.

Courchene said when he was the Mawandoseg co-ordinator, he worked on creating a library to educate Indigenous and non-Indigenous students alike.

“There was a good opportunity to learn from each other and that’s what these [CUSA service] centres are for . . . that would foster a better community across different societal divides, but that would be lost if we don’t have that office anymore,” he added.

According to Masjedee, CUSA plans to continue discussions with Ojigkwanong.

“Unless we hear a reason as to how this will better serve the community by having a separate office, then it doesn’t make sense to let you do what you’re doing and just not make it a little more official,” Masjedee said.

Photo by Shvaugn Craig