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Anishinaabe Student alleges Dalhousie U misallocated Aboriginal funding from Shell Canada

Human Rights complaint filed, University counters no wrong doing.

by Miles Howe

Rachelle McKay, an Anishinaabe student at Dalhousie University, alleges that a Shell Canada grant was misallocated when it went to pay for her summer job. [Photo: Miles Howe]
Rachelle McKay, an Anishinaabe student at Dalhousie University, alleges that a Shell Canada grant was misallocated when it went to pay for her summer job. [Photo: Miles Howe]

K'jipuktuk (HALIFAX) – Rachelle McKay, an Anishinaabe student at Dalhousie University, is alleging that the Dalhousie Student Success Services Office has misspent funding the university obtained through an agreement with Shell Canada – funding meant to be allocated for Aboriginal student support.

She has filed a complaint with the University's Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention after resigning from her student coaching position at Dalhousie when she learned that Shell funding for another position was apparently being diverted for her pay, without her knowledge.

Dalhousie University's Communications Office counters that the funding was properly spent and that McKay, despite having spiritual and ethical issues with being paid by a fossil fuel company, is not privy to the knowledge of who is paying her salary, as is university policy.

McKay was hired on April 22nd, 2013 for the Student Success Coaching position through Access and Academic Services at Dalhousie. While she was hired through an affirmative action policy - in that she self-identified as being an Aboriginal person on her job application - she also affirms that she was hired through a regular interviewing process.

McKay was hired for a 32.5 hours a week for a 20-week term.

Documents obtained by the Halifax Media Co-op show that McKay's letter of job offer, as well as her job description, did not differ from those of her other five co-workers.

“As a student support coach I worked with a caseload of 600 students that were all first year students to Dalhousie,” says McKay. “The job started with road shows to different high schools in Nova Scotia to help students construct their schedule in their first year and answer any questions they might have about Dal. The rest of my time was spent in the office answering emails and phone calls from those students.”

McKay notes that towards the last week of July she began working on a “Native Orientation” event. She estimates that she spent “less than 10 per cent of her time” through July and August working on this event.

McKay also notes that during the last week of July she was given another caseload of 40 students who had self-identified as Aboriginal, but that she was not able to contact those students because plans – and funding – for the Native Orientation event weren't “squared away”.

On August 20th, McKay discovered that her salary as a Student Success Coach was coming from a Shell Canada grant for Aboriginal Student Support.

While the grant itself is a well-known fact at Dalhousie – indeed it funds two employees at the Aboriginal Student Success program, which operates out of the independently-run Native Post Secondary Education Counselling Unit – McKay says she was completely unaware that her position was being funded through the grant and that she made the discovery in an accidental manner.

“I found out that specifically my funding, and not my co-workers, was coming from the grant provided by Shell Canada for Aboriginal Student Support. I wasn't being paid by Dalhousie, like my co-workers were,” notes McKay.

“I found out through a secretary at the Academic and Advising office, [who told me that] two positions supposed to be funded through the Aboriginal Student Success program wouldn't be receiving the same amount of pay as they were receiving last year because I was being paid out of [Shell's] Aboriginal funding.”

The Halifax Media Co-op has obtained a copy of a proposal for three years of funding sent from Meri Kim Oliver, Assistant Vice President of Student Academic Success Services, to Peter Fardy, Assistant Vice President, External and Chief Development Officer at Dalhousie University.

The proposal is clear in its budgetary request for funding for Aboriginal Student Support, and is broken down as follows:

  1. Coaches - $15/hr plus benefits for approximately 320 combined hours per year - $5,500

  2. Promotional Materials - $1,000

  3. Orientation (meals, program resources, child care, accommodation if overnight) - $3,500

  4. Programming resources - $2,000

Total: $12,000

Uncomfortable with the fact that her salary had come from Shell Canada, as well as the fact that she had just been informed that her job at Dalhousie – which arguably had a fairly minimal 'Aboriginal component' to it – was taking funding away from the Aboriginal Student Support services, McKay wrote an email to her direct supervisor, which she copied to the Director of Advising and Access Service Centres, Quenta Adams, as well as two co-workers from Student Coaching and one of the Aboriginal Student Support employees.

The August 21st email follows:

Hello,

I want to begin by saying that I have enjoyed my time here at Academic Advising and appreciate the opportunity you all have given me. However, yesterday August 20th I was informed by someone outside the Academic Advising office that I've been being paid out of the money that Shell Canada has donated to Dalhousie, whereas the other student coaches have been being paid by Dalhousie. If this is inaccurate please correct me.

If this is the case, I feel as though where my pay was coming from absolutely should have been disclosed to my before I accepted this position as it would have weighed greatly upon my decision to accept this job. As an Aboriginal person I place a great value on environmental protection and finding out that I've been accepting payments from a fossil fuel corporation sickens me to be honest. I feel as though to withhold the information that this 'Aboriginal position' was funded by Shell Canada shows a cultural insensitivity for my spiritual, ethical and moral views as a First Nations person.

I would strongly recommend that if the Student Success Program is to happen again next year, and if there is an Aboriginal Student Coach that the funding arrangement be disclosed with full transparency before hiring. If you would like to meet to further discuss my concerns I would be happy to do so.

Rachelle McKay

A meeting with Adams and McKay's direct supervisor, Kirsten Somers, was scheduled for the next day. McKay describes the tone of the meeting as “aggressive” and “almost threatening”.

“The meeting started off by me first of all asking the director if my funding was indeed coming from the Aboriginal Student Support fund, funded by Shell,” alleges McKay. “[Adams] confirmed that it was. I talked about how this money was supposed to go to Aboriginal students as a whole and to provide Aboriginal support, and that's not what I was doing [during my summer employment].

“I was then told that where my pay was coming from wasn't my concern and that these issues that I was bringing up were above me and that I had no right enquiring into them and that I was lucky I wasn't going to be met with disciplinary action.”

Neither Adams or Somers were available for comment.

The Communications office at Dalhousie University has provided the Halifax Media Co-op “background” information into the specifics of the Dalhousie – Shell agreement via email. The email, which follows, presents a glimpse into a very different funding picture than the Oliver – Fardy proposal. Although the email provides no financial details, it appears clear that there is a real discrepancy between the initial proposal and the apparent existing agreement, according to the Dal Communications Office.

Here is the Dalhousie email, from Charles Crosby, at the Dalhousie Communications Office:

Among other things, Shell has provided Dalhousie funding to support peer coaching and counselling resources as well as employment for Aboriginal students at Dalhousie. With this funding, over the last couple of years, Dalhousie created a program under which we hired an aboriginal student to work in Dalhousie’s Student Success Services office in the summer, which would then convert to part-time work in the Native Education and Counselling Unit during the academic year.

The idea underlying this approach is that basic advising training would occur under the direction of Dalhousie’s central advising services, which would be used as the basis for the part-time work during the term with a focus on aboriginal students.

During the summer, this individual would also be involved in a focused orientation session for aboriginal students.

It's important to note that Dalhousie does not have a policy requiring that employees be advised of all funding sources for their employment. (bold added)

It should also be noted that Dalhousie has numerous policies, programs, events and initiatives aimed at engendering a respectful and inclusive working and learning environment for all members of the campus community.

Requests for a copy of this particular funding agreement between Dalhousie and Shell, which ostensibly would show that the funding was always meant to go towards hiring a self-identified Aboriginal person to work as a Student Success Coach, were not met as of press time.

Following the meeting, McKay resigned from her position and went to Dalhousie's Office of Human Rights, Equity and Harassment Prevention. McKay claims that there she met with Lisa DeLong, a Human Rights and Equity Adviser at Dal, and that DeLong “offered the rest of my salary and a negotiable amount of finances to not file a formal complaint through the office that Lisa runs.”

UPDATE - September 12/2013: Dalhousie Communications Department denies that this conversation ever took place and has contacted the Halifax Media Co-op with the following statement: "At no point did Lisa DeLong offer any kind of financial incentive to [Rachelle McKay] to drop the matter under discussion..."

“I felt really good about it, almost,” says McKay of the alleged offer of finances. “I felt like it was Dal admitting that they know what they've done is wrong.

“I refused the money because I'm not doing this for my own benefit...My concern is with the Aboriginal students that come to Dal and aren't going to complete their degrees – for many different reasons – but the lack of support services for Aboriginal students [is a key factor]. I'm doing this because of all the Aboriginal students that aren't going to end up graduating from Dalhousie who would really benefit from the services that this funding should have been providing.”

Following the meeting with DeLong, McKay filed the following complaint with Dalhousie's Human Rights Office:

To Whom This Matter Concerns,

My name is Rachelle McKay and I am a King’s-Dalhousie student going into my fourth year of a combined honors program in Contemporary Studies and Sociology and I am Anishinaabe from Little Saskatchewan First Nation. I wish to make a formal complaint of discrimination against my employer Advising and Access Services within Student Academic Success Services at Dalhousie.

I was employed by Advising and Access Services on April 22nd, 2013 as a full-time Summer Student Success Coach for Dalhousie as part of a five student First Year Advising Team. On August 20th, 2013 I learned from an outside source that my position at Academic and Access Services was not being funded by Dalhousie like my colleagues positions were, but instead that my wages had been coming out of a grant provided by Shell Canada designated solely for Aboriginal support purposes.

I believe that to withhold and conceal this information shows a complete disregard for my spiritual and cultural beliefs as a First Nations person which I addressed in an email to my supervisor Kirsten Somers and the director of Advising and Access Services Quenta Adams. Within this email I asked to meet with both Kirsten and Quenta to discuss my concerns further.

I strongly believe that I should have been being paid by Dalhousie and not out of the Aboriginal Student Support Funding since I was serving Dalhousie’s First Year student population as a whole and was not working specifically with Aboriginal students. The contact that I had with Aboriginal students did not happen until very late into the summer and was very limited due to administrative decision making processes that did not occur concerning Native Student Orientation.

The meeting that I requested happened on August 21st, 2013. In this meeting my cultural and spiritual views which conflict with taking money from a fossil fuel corporation were devalued and dismissed. I was threatened with disciplinary action for raising my concerns but was then told that because it was so late into the summer no action would be taken against me. I believe that I had every reason to bring up my spiritual and ethical concerns and that this was an empty threat used to create a power dynamic within the meeting. I was belittled and told that the concerns I had were above me as I was only a summer student and I had no right inquiring into these issues including the source of my own pay.

To continue working with Academic and Access Services would be to go against my beliefs as an Aboriginal person. For this reason, as well as the deception I feel Academic and Access Services displayed I could no longer continue my job as a Student Success Coach at Dalhousie. On August 21st, 2013, immediately following my meeting with Quenta Adams and Kirsten Somers I was forced to resign as a result of what I believe to be a constructive resignation process through the actions and decisions made by the administration of Advising and Access Services.

My Indigeniety was something that was used against me. I believe that because I am Aboriginal, Advising and Access Services took advantage of my race in order to gain 526 hours of free labour at the expense of the Aboriginal Student Success Program. I was used by Advising and Access Services to go against my own spiritual and ethical beliefs as well as to undermine the success of my fellow Aboriginal students.

Throughout my time at Advising and Access Services I was paid $7371.00 out of the $12 000 grant provided by Shell Canada for Aboriginal Support. Knowing that most Aboriginal students who begin university do not graduate I am overwhelmed with a tremendous amount of guilt for my involvement of the divertment and misuse of these funds even though it occurred unknowingly and unwillingly.

It is because I am Aboriginal that I was treated differently than the non-Aboriginal students that I worked with. It is because I am Aboriginal that information concerning my own pay was withheld from me, and it is because I am Aboriginal that I had to resign from my position and no longer consider Dalhousie a trustworthy, safe or equitable employer for First Nations people.

Sincerely,

Rachelle McKay

"As Anishinaabe I really believe in protecting the earth and it's something I've really committed a lot of my time to," says McKay. "Finding out that I'm being paid from a fossil fuel corporation was really upsetting. I felt like I'd been betrayed by Dalhousie in a sense and that they were using my Indigineity and my status as a First Nations Person to turn me against my beliefs as an Anishinaabe."

SEPTEMBER 13/2013 - At this point the article has been updated, at the request of Dalhousie Communications Department. The Communications Department denies that any money was ever offered to Rachelle McKay in order to not publicize this issue.


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Comments

What an amazing principled stand.

I hope folks support Rachelle in whatever ways they can - it's fantastic that she's standing up against DAL, and has refused to bribed.
Also, well done Media Coop in covering this. Ima forward this article to friends at the Loaded Ladle.

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