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


7 Comments so far

  1. Anonymous on August 29, 2007 3:35 am

    The “difficulty” of bringing things from the floor is that only one person has drafted the motion- which is often a very specific solution to a problem. A council of more than 50 people (assuming all present) is not, as you’re likely aware Mayaan, the best group to work out wording changes or to make small amendments. Motions that have gone through a committee process tend to receive less debate, because more people have had a chance to comment on the motions content and effectiveness. It’s true that most motions come from exec, and I’ve never made any effort to deny that. I’d say that has more to do, as has been said before, with ineffective committee structures than with an aversion to creating “difficulties.”

    It’s worth noting that the motion went to exec committee, went through the consultations you mentioned, and was also on the previous council meeting’s agenda. No one in that time suggested to me that the motion “lacked meaning.” I was surprised and frankly a little frustrated that those councillors who wanted stronger language made no effort to address these concerns before council.

    Other comments reserved.

    Jeff Friedrich

  2. maayan kreitzman on August 29, 2007 3:58 am

    Fair enough Jeff! I’m not trying to point fingers, because i really don’t know where the blame lies for the fact that committees seem to be paralyzed, and individuals intimidated. It seems natural to me that most motions would come from committees, being the working groups of the society, but that’s obviously not the case. But I don’t think it’s so bad to have motions coming from the floor either-on the contrary, it’s a way for some interesting ideas to come forward that the executive isn’t spearheading, or that wouldn’t otherwise fit into a committee structure. Now in mariana’s case, it so happened that one exec member (you) was interested enough to take the motion on and do alot to take it through a process – but that isn’t a standard procedure by any means. Lets face it, there aren’t motions from the floor often in any case. In AHRAERC we’ve been talking about having some sort of group to help individual people/counsilors/caucuses draft policies and get feedback on them before bringing them to the highly critical, time consuming, micromanagement of the whole council. The question of how the agenda is mostly driven is one without an obvious rationale. Maybe it has more to do with habit than anything else.

    About the “meaning” point, it just seems very hard to build concencuss on a topic like this, either because of a strong positioning, or because of a lack thereof. Either way, alot of people won’t be happy.

  3. Anonymous on August 31, 2007 9:25 am

    Another question we should be asking: Why is the AMS spending its most valuable resource (time) on an issue that is not essentially a student issue, but merely an issue that some students find important? I contest that the AMS’s External policy should be a lobbying effort for student interests, and not for propagating the opinions and positions of student political/social groups on non-university related issues. It is not the AMS’s role to take positions on issues that do not directly affect UBC students, and consequently when Council, the Executive, and Committees end up spending their limited time on these issues it is irresponsible because it results in other, student-centric, issues being given less time. The AMS should not be taking stances on global, national, provincial, or municipal issues that they have no business taking a position on and, therefore, the AMS’s position has little to no influence on the subject.

    UBC has many different student groups, with their own ideas on social and political issues. Let these groups fight for these issues, and have the AMS focus on fighting for students’ interests and not for the interests of individuals who happen to be students. There is a very distinct difference between the two, though not very much so grammatically. Having motions that deal with external non-student related issues fail at Council might indicate that Council seeks to deter future commitments of the time of the Executive and Council on these issues. Instead their time should be directed solely towards student issues when formulating AMS External Policy.

  4. Alex Lougheed on September 2, 2007 5:46 am

    In no way what-so-ever is the council setting conductive to:

    1. Learn all about an issue foreign to some councilors
    2. Debate about the pros and cons regarding to said issue
    3. Deciding on their personal (read “representational”) stance when it comes to that issue

    The way the rules are set up are inherently head-butting, but they do suitably serve the purpose of the council’s mandate. If the grander infrastructure were more accommodating to reasoned (and reflective) debate, to have some other body in a different context first rationalize over these kinds of things, then I believe we’d see not only increase productivity, but effort channeled in to things with more immediate support.

    One thing that irked me is the “questioning of motives” that went during that meeting. We should all be respective of one another’s opinions and take what is said at face value. Once you start “questioning motives” you begin to undermine one of the fundamental assumptions in productivity: trust.

  5. Anonymous on September 8, 2007 3:37 pm

    I totally agree with the second anonymous comment. I don’t actually see why the AMS would waste precious Council time on debating something that is none of the AMS’s business anyway. This is an issue that governing bodies much higher up should deal with, not the AMS.

    It irks me that irrelevant things are brought up and debated to death in the AMS, like the UN Declaration of Human rights, or other random things. It is ridiculous that the AMS should even be bringing these issues up. Equally as ridiculous would be to have the UN Security Council bring up plans for promoting bzzr gardens at UBC.

    What if the motion had passed? If “Alma Mater Society had officially
    recognized the Musqueam people’s legitimate claim to this territory”? How would things be any different than they are now? The Musqueam still would have been engaged in a treaty negotiation process, only now with the support? recognition? of a student society. Big woop, as if that’s going to change things in the long run.

    In my mind, the AMS should focus on things that directly impact students. And I’m sorry, recognising the Musqueam’s people’s claim to UBC land is something very few UBC students know OR care about. Having an up-to-date AMS website, on the other hand, would help. Having a place where one could go to find out the social events happening at UBC on any given Friday, now that would be useful.

    I think it’s important to note that I’m not challenging the validity of the Musqueam people’s claim, or of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, or any of the other issues AMS has brought to Council. What I am trying to get across, is the fact that I think these issues don’t belong in AMS Council.

  6. maayan kreitzman on September 9, 2007 6:33 am

    I don’t agree with these hyper-internal assesments of what the AMS should be all about. AMS is a our student society. The council is democratically elected and has representitive authority. Some people even campaigned on platforms that encompassed wider-ranging issues.

    I’ve noticed that (frequently) people that don’t want to talk about external issues at all simply have no opinions, and are afraid of people who do. Or worse, they’re terrified of being “political” (quite the insult these days).

    clearly there’s a useful balance to be struck, and people aren’t going to agree about exactly where that is. In this case, I don’t see the discussion as being very far removed from UBC and AMS at all! Our university was involved in some of the Musqueams’s court efforts, and we’re sitting on the land being negotiated. the AMS makes policies often about things that aren’t under its direct control, (including academics) and this isn’t so very far removed from that type of activity. Also, (to anon 8:37) don’t underestimate the power of a strong student voice. We have alot of power (especially to relate to the public), and maybe it’s underestimated by ourselves sometimes.

  7. Steven on September 13, 2007 7:35 pm

    What’s quite strange about these arguments that the AMS should stick to ‘student issues’, especially in this instance, is the accompanying claim that the historical legacy of UBC, an institution from which all students benefit, is somehow not our (student’s) problem. Since students are presently the main beneficiaries of an unjust appropriation of land, it seems there is an extra responsibility for the AMS to take a symbolic stand in solidarity with the Musqueam. Yes, it does take time and effort to learn about the issues and debate the motions, but if councilors see themselves as responsible citizens, they cannot claim that time would be better spent elsewhere. Now, if people oppose the motion because they don’t think the Musqueam have a legitimate claim to the land, that’s another story, but don’t pretend its none of your business, because it most certainly is.

    I won’t comment too much on the question of taking stands on Canada’s foreign engagements or the UN Human Rights Charter, but one think to take into account is the fact that the SUB is used by military and CSIS recruiters.

    Steven Klein

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