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Students refuse to participate in Canada 150 celebrations

'We never planned a full-out celebration or marking of Canada 150. We've taken it rather quietly at Algoma' - Celia Ross, acting president of Algoma University
Bushra Asghar says Algoma University is different, with a formal mission to 'cultivate cross-cultural learning between aboriginal communities and other communities.' Photo by David Helwig/SooToday

The board of Algoma University Students' Union voted unanimously today against endorsing or sanctioning any Canada 150-related events on campus or elsewhere in the city.

"We do not want this on our campus," said AUSU president Bushra Asghar.

"We refuse to celebrate nationalistic attitudes in a space and location that has caused such an immense degree of violence for the indigenous peoples of our communities," Asghar said, referring to the university's past as a residential school.

Universities Canada, representing 97 Canadian universities and university colleges, is pushing for activities celebrating Canada's 150th birthday on all its campuses.

But Asghar insists Algoma University is different, with a formal mission to "cultivate cross-cultural learning between aboriginal communities and other communities."

AUSU represents Algoma University's 1,000 full-time and 300 part-time students.

Asghar said the decision to reject Canada 150 activities resulted from a campaign launched by Quinn Meawasige and other members of the community economic and social development class.

"We're in solidarity with the indigenous students who attend this institution," Asghar tells SooToday.

"Our university is constantly talking about decolonising academia, or indigenising academia. How are we actually doing that? We can't be doing that by continuing to perpetuate colonial thinking."

"We've seen how violent our governments can be and how they continue to act in ways that are very colonial. So how are we supporting our indigenous students?"

"The student union made that decision being aware of the violence that can be caused to indigenous learners in our spaces."

"The Canadian government's spending that much money on literally a day, and nationalism, when they could be investing in education and indigenous students."

Celia Ross, the university's acting president, commended the students, describing their decision in this way: "As a university that was formerly a residential school, our approach to this year should be one of thoughtful reflection and debate, marking the occasion but not celebrating it."

"It's a very thoughtful approach that they're taking and I congratulate them on it," Ross said.

"We never planned a full-out celebration or marking of Canada 150. We've taken it rather quietly at Algoma."

The following are listed on Algoma University's website as upcoming or ongoing Canada 150 events:

  • Modelled after the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s Canada Reads program, Algoma Reads is offered "as part of the university’s celebration of and critical engagement with Canada’s 150th anniversary." Participants are encouraged to read the Canada Read’s five-novel shortlist, and then engage in group discussions and five public talks featuring prominent literary figures
  • On Wednesday, July 19 at 7:30 p.m., international concert pianist Jan Lisiecki will perform a Canada 150 solo piano recital at Sault Community Theatre Centre
  • Summer camp programs will run throughout July and August. "Camp participants will celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday by taking part in exciting activities and celebrations in the region,"  the university's website says. "There are so many places to see, people to meet and ways to earn how Sault Ste. Marie and the Algoma District help shaped Canada"

Acting president Ross downplayed the connection of some events to Canada 150, indicating they'd been promoted that way simply because they're taking place in 2017. 

In other news, Algoma University issued the following statement today:

Algoma U signs agreement with Canadian Mental Health Association

Students to receive access to mental health educator

SAULT STE. MARIE, ON (June 22, 2017) – Algoma University has partnered with the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) on an agreement that will improve mental health services to students.
The initiative comes at a time when student demand for mental health services is soaring across the country.

More than ever, providing mental health training to university employees is critical to the well-being of students.

This initiative provides the university community with access to a mental health educator who will support existing programming and help to implement additional activities outlined in the agreement.
As part of the agreement, Algoma University will be the first university in Canada to launch Talk Today – a mental health and suicide awareness program specifically designed to support student athletes.
“We are very happy to formalize an agreement with the Canadian Mental Health Association,” said Tom Mauro, director of ancillary and student services. “Having access to a Mental Health Educator will further supplement the services already provided on campus and support our training efforts.”
Going beyond simply supporting students, the mental health educator will provide workshops and training in order to equip university employees with the knowledge and skills required to deal with mental health issues.
The agreement includes the following deliverables:

  • the mental health educator will organize and deliver mental health education programming to students, faculty and staff on campus two days per month to help build awareness and support services for students
  • the mental health educator will coordinate and deliver a Talk Today program – one of the most comprehensive mental health programs for amateur sports in Canada. Its aim is to promote the mental health of young athletes and to spread awareness about suicide prevention and the benefits of positive mental health throughout communities across the country
  • the mental health educator will deliver up to four safeTalk training sessions to faculty, staff and students to create awareness and prevention around suicide
  • the mental health educator will deliver up to four mental health first aid training sessions to faculty, staff and students aimed at identifying and supporting students who may be experiencing mental health issues

“We are so pleased that Algoma University has decided to partner with us in providing access to mental health awareness training for students and staff and at the same time to launch the Talk Today program with its entire athletics department,” said Annette Katajamaki, executive director of the CMHA, Sault Ste. Marie/Algoma.

“Algoma U will be the first university campus to launch this very successful program, on the heels of Sault College launching the same program and becoming the first college campus. Sault Ste. Marie has been fortunate to have both of these academic institutions recognize the importance of good mental health in promoting student achievement.”

About Algoma University

Algoma University was established in 1965 and is located in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Algoma University is a small, undergraduate, teaching-focused university that places an emphasis on serving the needs of Northern Ontario.

Algoma University offers a wide range of degrees spanning the liberal arts, sciences, and professional disciplines. 

As a partner with Shingwauk Kinoomaage Gamig, Algoma University has a special mission to cultivate cross-cultural learning between Aboriginal populations and other communities.

Algoma University also offers satellite programming in Brampton and Timmins. 

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David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
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