Open letter to Advanced Education and Skills Training Minister Anne Kang on recent events at BCIT

ANNE KANG

Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Training

May 11, 2021

Dear Minister Kang,

I am writing this letter in response to recent events that occurred between Métis Nation British Columbia (MNBC) and BCIT.

In late April, MNBC received an anonymous letter from a Métis citizen that included an email from Kory Wilson, Executive Director, Indigenous Initiatives and Partnerships at BCIT. The email, sent by Ms. Wilson to an unknown number of individuals, stated the following:

  • “Having an Indigenous ancestor or relative does not an Indigenous person make”
  • “I can see jockeying for position, money and voice for Indigenous people in BC” after sharing that Métis Nation has declared self-government in BC
  • “Of course many groups have moved to BC and currently live in BC but only First Nations have a right to self-government in BC if you exclude the Treaty 8 area.”

After receiving this letter filled with bigotry towards Métis people in BC, MNBC staff reached out to BCIT the week of April 20. The initial response was slow, muted, and didn’t take into account the severity of the issue. Our staff had trouble getting an appropriate response from the institution, even with continued follow-ups, which led MNBC to feel as if BCIT was not taking the issue seriously enough. As the situation unfolded, there was a reluctance to publicly acknowledge the incident ever occurred. Arguably BCIT was trying to sweep this issue under the rug.

From there, it wasn’t until Friday, May 7, that BCIT’s senior leadership reached out to MNBC. This was after MNBC had begun to brief the provincial government and your Ministry’s office, so one might reasonably draw a connection between the two. After BCIT President Kathy Kinloch spoke to our CEO and Deputy Minister, Daniel Fontaine, there was an agreement to issue a joint statement. MNBC staff worked on a first draft (attached) which included a number of commitments requested of BCIT. Those commitments included:

  • BCIT commissioning an independent third-party, one that is mutually agreed upon with MNBC, to conduct a complete and thorough review of the incident, ensuring the lived experiences of Métis students, faculty and staff – both present and past – are heard and reflected;
  • Committing to completing the review within 120 days and to publish the findings and recommendations;
  • BCIT undertaking Métis-specific cultural sensitivity training for all staff and faculty in 2021, and ensures all future staff and faculty receive the same;
  • BCIT engaging MNBC on a Métis-led review of Indigenous 101 curriculum, Indigenous modules and the broader Indigenization program offered at BCIT.

BCIT’s edits of the release removed all of these commitments, and only sought to acknowledge and apologize for the incident without any step forward. MNBC agreed to sign on to the release, which went out 9:00 A.M. on May 9. Following this, numerous media requests came into MNBC and we followed up on them. Note, there was no agreement to refuse comment on media made by MNBC. MNBC was honest with all media interviews and only stated the truth.

Late on the evening of May 9, BCIT released another statement, where it was expressed, “We are disappointed that the Métis Nation British Columbia has chosen to press beyond our previously agreed joint statement and apology.” This discounts the rights of any organization or government to engage in free press. This patronizing tone of a colonial institution telling an Indigenous government what it can and can’t do is truly disappointing. I am abhorred by this, and another apology is in order. To make matters worse, BCIT states, Indigenous and Métis.” Métis people are Indigenous. It is clear that BCIT has considerable work to do on the Métis file.

Following public media reports, MNBC has received calls and emails from BCIT staff, faculty and students – present and past – sharing troubling accounts of bigotry, racism, and injustice felt at BCIT. On the heels of action from the BC government, with the report from Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond into systemic racism in BC’s health care system, BC’s anti-racism legislation currently in development, and the anti-racism hotline, it seems there is enough evidence that an investigation into BC’s post-secondary institutions, starting with BCIT, is in order. Undoubtedly over the coming days and weeks, more courageous people will step forward to share their stories.

Two items highlighted in your mandate letter, “Lasting and meaningful reconciliation” and “Equity and antiracism” are of key points to raise in this incident. As it states, “true reconciliation will take time and ongoing commitment to work with Indigenous peoples as they move toward self-determination.” Your government has recognized MNBC as the government for Métis in BC and has committed strongly to equity and anti-racism. We once again encourage BCIT to accept our reasonable recommendations and work with MNBC to ensure that the 90,000 Métis people in BC feel safe attending BCIT. We must not hide in the face of these situations, but rather listen, hear and act.

I look forward to your response.

Susie Hooper

Minister of Post-Secondary Education