The Indigenous Study Space of Bata Library: Safe Space, or Potential Zone of Segregation?

Bata Library under construction during the 2017-2018 academic year, as seen from East Bank. Photo by Kortney Dunsby.

The newly-reopened Bata library has been a hit in terms of popularity, with students crowding to the library for its newfound resources, like the tech labs, student group work rooms, and solo-work spaces. Yet Bata has not been completed in its entirety quite yet.

As many students have noticed, on the fourth floor of the library there is an empty (or close to empty) room overlooking the river: room 410. Unlike the other rooms on the fourth floor, this room does not have restricted access, and it seems many forgo the door and signage dubbing it the Centre for Indigenous Studies. Yet what sort of environment does that make it?

Being the only dedicated Indigenous Studies space on all of West Bank, the room has been in use by Indigenous Students since the reopening. It was made for those who wanted a space where they could have a shared community in the library that could be called their own. Yet situations have arisen that have made the space not only unwelcoming to Indigenous students, but a space in which they become the subjects of segregation and prejudice.

In one such situation, students that have otherwise decided to go unidentified spoke of a situation in which one non-Indigenous student cursed them, “F-ing Indigenous kids and their f-ing privilege” in a face off with a non-Indigenous student who had unrightfully claimed the space. Said non-Indigenous student was eventually escorted from the space and the library, Security explaining that the rights to that room are specifically for Indigenous students, or those in Indigenous studies.

Yet how is an empty room with mere extra chairs and tables supposed to represent the Indigenous community and its purpose? Evidently the sign next to the door never draws any attention — rather, the use of the room is just a sort of finders keepers, with many Indigenous students constantly turned away from a room full of non-Indigenous students misusing the space.

At a meeting organized by more powerful positions from the Indigenous Studies Department and graduate students, ideas for improving the room were thrown around. Ideas like having traditional Indigenous medicines, Indigenous art created by students, and flags of the different nations that the campus occupies being available. Yet one concept that came from multiple students, graduate students included, was the idea of making the space inclusive; putting a scanning system on the room, similar to the graduate rooms on the same floor. A safeguard for those Indigenous students seeking that space on that side of campus, only those identifying as Indigenous as well as any students undertaking a degree through the Indigenous Studies Department would be allowed access.

Yet is this something that we, as students, need? Is it another way of potentially separating and causing more of a divide between students? Another option was to make the room an open all-access space, once it’s decorated more accordingly. But would it only end in the same segregated fervor, a hit or miss situation, where Indigenous students can potentially access the space once a day when it’s completely empty? One suggestion was to make it a bookable space, but would that only end in the same situation? Indigenous students constantly left on the back burner, while the room would be booked solely by those seeking it as the empty space it has been ever since Bata library opened again?

To say the least, the Indigenous Studies Department and the First Peoples House of Learning have their eyes on the space, the only extension of each department on West bank. They want the space to be a success and an extension of the existing spaces, but what future does it hold? Will it be a successful extension, or a room to further prove that West Bank is the representation of colonial living and learning on campus?