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Faculty of Arts
Research Interests: Aboriginal rights and treaty making in Canada and Residential School litigation
My research focuses on the relationship between Indigenous peoples and settler states. I am particularly interested in how Indigenous nations assert their rights and sovereignty in struggles over land and political recognition, and the consequences for Indigenous people of engaging states in legal and political arenas.
I am currently finishing a book on the negotiation of the Nisga’a treaty. Entitled Uncertain Futures: Aboriginal Rights and Treaty Making in Canada, this book looks at the legal, political and cultural consequences of the treaty made between the Nisga’a First Nation, Canada and British Columbia in 2000. I am particularly interested in if and how treaty making in Canada can be a mechanism of reconciliation. Presently it is not. While the recent report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools identifies the treaty relationship as key to meaningful reconciliation, First Nations treaty signatories have very different ideas about how and why a treaty can reconcile their relationship with the state than do the federal and provincial governments. For Nisga’a, as for most First Nations, treaties are a sacred covenant and should create relationships of mutual respect and obligations between treaty partners. This is only possible, however, when they are fully implemented and their spirit and intent fully complied with.
My second major project, entitled “The Right to be Harmed: Rights, Culture and Injury in Residential School Litigation” is a SSHRC funded study of the litigation that former residential school students brought against Canada and the major Christian Churches who partners with the government to run the residential schools. This litigation led up to and resulted in the recent Truth and Reconciliation Commission on Indian Residential Schools. This research traces the multiple dimensions of injury that were presented and fought over in the residential school cases. I look in particular at the problematic role of trauma and psychiatric disorders as evidence of harms that are not just physical and emotional but political in nature.