November 12, 2021


T/W: Anti Indigenous Semantics, Denial of Genocide, Indian Residential Schools, Unmarked/ Mass Graves of Children, Islamophobia, Anti-Blackness 

To Whom It May Concern,

We acknowledge that the University of British Columbia is situated on the Traditional and Unceded Territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓ əm (Musqueam) and Syilx People(s).

As Indigenous students currently attending post-secondary, it has been brought to our attention that UBC Students for Freedom of Expression is hosting an event with the speaker Lauren Southern. This event has been organized and promoted with the purpose of deliberately discrediting Indigenous trauma and genocide. This is not a conversation. Rather, this type of rhetoric makes room to discredit Indigenous trauma, the violence inflicted against Indigenous People(s), and colonialism that has impacted our communities. If we welcome these conversations at our institutions as a “debatable topic,” then “reconciliation” can not presently occur and it never will. Creating safe spaces for learning can never happen in the walls of institutions if these forms of dialogue continue to take place for the benefit of the colonial system. 

Lauren Cherie Southern is a white settler, born and raised in B.C. Her education level consists of 2 years of undergraduate studies in Political Science from the University of the Fraser Valley. Southern is a self-declared journalist whose work has taken her across the world as she spreads hate speech and racism under the guise of  “freedom of speech.” While Southern denies being a white nationalist or racist, her work has been described as anti-feminist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and transphobic.

Lauren Southern’s harmful rhetoric towards Black, Indigenous, and Muslim Peoples is both harmful and denigrating. In December 2016, Southern self-published a short book Barbarians: How Baby Boomers, Immigrants, and Islam Screwed My Generation. Southern argues that the Black Lives Matter movement has caused more death than the Ku Klux Klan. Southern has also defended the work of Neo-Nazi, Richard B. Spenser. In her recent documentary, “The Canadian Mass Graves Hoax,” Lauren Southern takes an inaccurate, skeptical view of recent revelations of genocide at residential schools. She has challenged the scientific basis for the conclusions arrived at by forensic investigators and disputed media coverage of the investigation. Her work explicitly undermines Indigenous histories and invalidates the trauma incited by colonialism.

Lauren Southern does not deserve a platform at UBC, nor in any space (including online platforms) where her hateful rhetoric causes harm to Indigenous People(s). If conversations pertaining to colonial genocide and Indian Residential Schools do not uphold truth, healing, and reconciliation, then it is inevitable that the colonial state and settlers will continue to perpetuate colonial misconceptions and erase Indigenous perspectives. When the conversation is dominated by individuals such as Southern, there is a dissolution of the true intent of reconciliation. Southern has discredited the experiences of BIPOC voices to sensationalize her platform and is continuing this trend by now hijacking the stories of Indian Residential School Survivors and expropriating our collective grief.

We have heard that Southern’s in-person event has been canceled but her online event will be going forward. Hosting this event will continue to cause harm to Indigenous students and the Indigenous community. The ongoing news of the unmarked graves across this colonial state has caused waves of grief for our Indigenous communities across Turtle Island. The impacts of these unmarked graves have been detrimental to some, as survivors of these institutions are forced to relive their trauma. 

For Indigenous students, attending the University of British Columbia, the impacts of these dialogues go beyond the institution. These forms of rhetoric seep into our learning environments and workplaces,   thereby further justifying colonialism and reinforcing Indigenous assimilation and genocide. These conversations negate the work of Indigenous scholars, academics, and community members who have spent decades trying to build safe spaces and learning environments for Indigenous students within post-secondary. Indigenous lived experience and trauma should not be sensationalized at the expense of Indigenous People(s) emotional labor, stories, and experiences. We should not have to defend our truths or traumas; as Indigenous People(s), we have always been aware of these stories and lived experiences from our Elders, and community members. Indigenous students are constantly put on the front lines to defend, teach, and correct information in their learning environments that stem from dialogues such as those employed by Southern. Indigenous lived experience and trauma is not a two-sided debate. 

There is a direct correlation between having these harmful forms of dialogue and their presence impacting Indigenous students and the community in the institution. Indigenous students attending post-secondary continuously face systemic barriers while combating institutional racism and experiencing harm in their learning environments. Settlers, allies, faculty, and higher-level administration need to question the work the post-secondary and academic institutions are doing in order to better facilitate conversations pertaining to the truth of colonial history that so-called “canada” has been built upon. UBC should be doing more work to fund and build capacity within their Indigenous studies department, support Indigenous faculty and admin, and facilitate spaces that educate the settler student body on current events that are ongoing and impacting the Indigenous community. For events such as Souther’s talk to be present and recognized within the UBC community, especially after the last 6 months, proves there is a need to do substantially better in the way of supporting and addressing Indigenous history, information, and celebrating Indigenous excellence. 

The following has been collected from the UBC Indigenous Strategic Plan 2020, these are current calls to action UBC has taken on to address and commit to reconciliation:

Action 10 of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan (2020) Create dedicated strategic programming to catalyze research that is co-developed with and led by Indigenous communities locally and globally

Action 18 of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan (2020) Continue to partner with Indigenous communities locally and globally to develop accredited post-secondary Indigenous knowledge programs that can be delivered in communities and on campus.

Action 34 of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan (2020) Develop and deliver Indigenous history and issues training for all faculty and staff to be successfully completed within the first year of employment at UBC and to be reviewed on a regular basis.

Action 37 of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan (2020) In consultation with Indigenous knowledge experts, establish an International Indigenous Higher Education Advocacy Group to develop a global strategy for the advancement of Indigenous peoples’ human rights in research and curriculum. 

Action 38 of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan (2020) Review all university policies and operational practices to ensure they support the recognition of Indigenous peoples’ human rights, and the equity and inclusion of Indigenous students, faculty, staff, and community members. 

Action 41of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan (2020) Enhance trauma, violence, and other counseling or cultural support services for Indigenous students, faculty, and staff.

Action 43 of UBC’s Indigenous Strategic Plan (2020) promises to expand upon UBC’s discrimination and harassment policies to clarify and uphold UBC’s zero tolerance for racism, cultural violence, sexual violence, or any form of discrimination against Indigenous students, faculty, staff, and community members.

Furthermore, UBC’s President, Santa Ono stated: The Province of British Columbia is the first government in Canada and the Common Law world to pass legislation implementing the UN Declaration. With this Plan, we are responding to this mandate and want to set a positive example for other universities across Canada, and the world, on how to continue to uphold our responsibilities to Indigenous People(s).

We Call on the University of British Columbia and Alma Mater Society to:

  • Advocate for the cancellation of the event in its entirety, and to continue to take a proactive stance in ensuring that these forms of rhetoric are not supported in the future.
  • Issue an apology to Indigenous students and community members, and share culturally relevant resources to those who have been, and continue to be, are impacted within the UBC community. 
  • Create and fund more dialogues that are centered on Indigenous perspectives from Indigenous community members and students.
  • Fund and create more capacity within the Indigenous studies department at UBC.
  • Donation of funds to the Indian Residential School Survivors Society from the University of British Columbia and Alma Mater Student Society.  

In Solidarity,

Concerned Indigenous Students