Tenure and promotion

I’m happy to share that as of today (February 28, 2023), I have been awarded tenure at Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU). Tenure at TMU also comes with promotion from assistant to associate professor. Yay!

I couldn’t have reached this milestone without the support of many people. This includes my family, who not only support me but also make sacrifices so that I can focus on my research. It also includes many colleagues at the Yellowhead Institute, TMU Sociology, Faculty of Arts, and OVPRI, and USask Indigenous Studies: your support and generous feedback over the years means a lot to me. And of course, I thank all the Indigenous community members who shared their stories with me through various research projects – doing such work with you is why I got into this game in the first place.


Photo of some guy who just got tenure

Customary adoption, Indian status, and band membership

A friend asked me what type of documentation their child might need to apply for Indian status on the grounds of customary adoption. I’m sharing my response below in case it is of interest to others:

Hey buddy,

Here is that info on customary adoption.

The required documentation may differ if the adoption is grounds for an application for Indian status vs. an application for band membership. Some bands have their own membership codes, which may or may not address adoption in their own ways. On the other hand, some bands’ membership lists are determined by INAC; in those cases having status quite often means having membership. So, if you’re thinking about status only, that’s straight forward (see below). But if you’re thinking about membership as well, you may need to check whether the respective band has its own membership code. Here is a list of all the bands that have their own codes.

For Indian status:

Since 1985, INAC recognizes four different types of adoption as a basis for Indian status (1. private adoption, 2. stepparent adoption, 3. de facto adoption, and 4. custom adoption). In terms of custom adoption specifically, pages 12-13 of the Adoption Officer’s Manual (see here) states:

  • “[The] applicant [should] provide affidavits from the natural parents, adoptive parents, the band council, and elders of the band stating whether they believe that the band has, or had at the time of the event, a custom for adoption and whether the applicant was adopted in accordance with that custom. The affidavit should also indicate when the adoption took place.” 

For band membership:

  • If the band has its own membership code, the adoptee may or may not need to have Indian status to qualify for membership – it depends on how that membership code is written. Also, some bands recognize only “legal” adoptions and not customary adoptions, or vice versa, or both(!). So you’d need to review that band’s membership code to determine what, if any, documentation is required.
  • If a band does not control its membership, then the adoptee will likely be added to that band’s membership list once they have Indian status. So the documentation needed is the same as applying for Indian status.

Finally, I’ve spoken to the odd INAC bureaucrat or two about this stuff, and they tend to have a very, very narrow definition of what counts as “customary.” One even tried to tell me that “customary adoption” only happens when a child is adopted by their grandparent. This is not true, and in fact conflicts with the Adoption Officer’s Manual, which states: “Only the local community is competent to judge whether an adoption has taken place in accordance with the historic customs of that particular community” (see page 12). So, the more support (in writing) you have from elders, band councils, and adoptive/natural family members, the better.

All the best!

Youth-Focused COVID-19 Resources

We’re currently in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is some clear, calm, and youth-driven info to assist younger folks in understanding what is happening around them:

My Name is Coronavirus: A 12-page activity booklet that presents key info about the coronavirus, modes of transmission, illness, and preventative measures. Created by Manuela Molina, this booklet is available in Spanish, English, Italian, Portuguese, French, Polish, Hebrew, Indonesian, German, Turkish, Russian, and Egyptian Arabic.

CBC News Kids: Provides a number of excellent youth-driven videos about coronavirus. Topics include: Busting myths about the coronavirus; Why is everybody freaking out about the coronavirus?; What does it mean that the coronavirus outbreak is now a pandemic?

Understanding coronavirus and how germs spread: This is a 34-minute podcast created by Brains On. From the Spotify description: “In this episode we’ll breakdown what we know about this new virus and tell you how to stay safe.”

Thirteen science questions about COVID-19 from teens: This is basically a FAQ webpage answering 13 questions posed by students at a school in New Jersey. Questions cover a range of topics, from vaccine production, to school closures, to protective measures.

Kids Help Phone: We’re here for you during COVID-19 (novel coronavirus): This is a direct support service for children and teenagers with questions about the virus and COVID-19. This webpage provides an excellent mix of FAQs and videos, and provides real-time contact info if kids need to support directly (i.e. 24/7 phone, texting, and online chat options available). The videos are cool, too: they focus on reducing anxiety and empowering young people when dealing with adults and doctors.


Exception: Wet’suwet’en Nationhood, COVID-19, and Canada’s Colonial Soul

As Canada and its provinces respond to Wet’suwet’en assertions of jurisdiction and allied blockades over the past week, I couldn’t help be see parallels between the state’s actions on this matter and the public’s reactions over coronavirus COVID-19. In both, we see a state of exception being made, through which patriarchal settler colonialism is reproduced.

In a short piece published February 26, 2020, Giorgio Agamben critiques Italy’s response to COVID-19 for the way it allows the state to normalize incursions on freedoms based on what he sees as very limited public health risk. As he puts it, fears over the virus are permitting governments to intrude on the lives of citizens, thereby manifesting “[a] growing tendency to use the state of exception as a normal governing paradigm.” On this platform, bodies are barred from movement and enforcement measures are stepped up, which in turn renew the state’s claims to authority and the public’s willingness to accept those claims.

But in Canada, it just so happens that responses to COVID-19 and Wet’suwet’en land defence are taking place at the same time. While this bottleneck could not be predicted, it does provide us with a lens through which to see how both of these issues permit the state and the public to create a state of exception through which settler colonial power not just reproduces itself, but comes into view.

On the one hand, courts and police have deployed “a tidal wave of injunctions” to remove blockades erected in solidarity with the Wet’suwet’en and, indeed, Wet’suwet’en people themselves from their own unceded land. As my Yellowhead Institute colleagues have shown, injunctions have become a tool of state-making that clear the land of Indigenous peoples so that extractive capitalism can continue status quo. We see the normalizing effects of this in the words of conservative politicians who seemed to be supporting vigilanteism, and in the actions of “hero’s” who dismantled solidarity blockades, both of which have led some to caution that Canada should prepare for “a surge in white supremacist vigilantes.” This seems to be a fitting analysis considering that, as Audra Simpson reminds us, settler colonialism in Canada is a joint effort between government and its citizens.

But on the other hand, COVID-19 is releasing its own torrent of exceptionalism. Stirring xenophobia and racism at points around the world, it seems to be broadening hegemonic power in ways similar to Simpson’s analysis of violence: both the state and its citizens are getting involved in the regulation of some bodies in the service of protecting other bodies. In Russia, for example, it appears that citizens are openly discriminating against Chinese individuals; in Canada, Chinese-owned businesses are reporting significant declines in business.

The crux of all this – that is, where these issues come together for me – is in the public’s apparent fear of things beyond state control. Indigenous sovereignties lay beyond the state’s jurisdiction, which is why flashpoint events over land conflicts continue to pop-up every year or two in this country. This might be scary for some because it questions the very idea of Canada and its claims to natural resources – apparently no one can mess with the settler society’s access to Indigenous lands. The reactions to this in the past weeks have included not just injunctions and police enforcement, but a spike in anti-Indigenous racism and heteropatriarchy as seen in part by the fact that Indigenous individuals broadly are reporting feeling unsafe, and in the production of a decal in Alberta apparently depicting Greta Thunberg (a child) in a sexual act.

But COVID-19 might be beyond the state’s control, too. While this remains the be seen, the spectre of coronavirus chaos has proven scary enough already for some to target Chinese individuals and communities globally.

But here is the kicker: Fear is one thing. Anger is another. And the combination of fear and anger spells bad things for Indigenous communities when we realize that settler colonialism is upheld by government and citizenry. As Twitter user Claude pointed out in response to rail blockades, “if you put my family’s well being and safety at risk you’ll turn me into an angry settler.” Well, at what point might COVID-19 put Claude’s family at risk anyway? Who pays then?

In looping back to Agamben’s comments, the fears being stirred by the coronavirus coupled with the state’s responses to Wet’suwet’en assertions of nationhood are clearly creating a state of exception where settler colonial power re-asserts itself. But for Indigenous communities that have been resisting Canadian colonialism for so long, this is not an exception – it has been the daily experience for generations. Instead, the exception of this moment is that it has created an opening: Canada’s settler colonial soul has been laid bare for all to see.

Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement @ FWFN? A review

By now, most people will know that Fort William is heading into a vote on whether to ratify the proposed Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement (the Agreement or ANGA). I have been asked by a community elder to review the Agreement and to provide my thoughts. Others, including members of chief and council, have also noted that the community wants to know more about the potential long term effects. On that note, I’ve reviewed the ANGA for how it might affect FWFN specifically, and I share my thoughts here in the spirit of community discussion. If you’re interested in more general critiques of the ANGA, see Hayden King’s piece or this one by Brock Pitawanakwat.

Before moving forward, though, here is a copy of what I believe to be the most recent version of the ANGA. Throughout my review below, I make reference to specific articles of the Agreement, using brackets to do so (such as: 15.5, 15.6, etc.). I’ll start by giving some context, and then I’ll address my concerns. I conclude by offering some general reflections on “self-government” that our community should be aware of.


The Union of Ontario Indians (UOI) has been working on this Agreement since 1995. It has been negotiated under Canada’s self-government legislation, which recognizes First Nations as having an inherent right to “self-government” in accordance with section 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982.

The Agreement itself provides for self-government at the First Nation level in four areas: 1. Leadership Selection (5.10-5.11), 2. E’Dbendaagzijig Law (citizenship) (5.12-5.23), 3. Culture and Language (5.21-5.23), and 4. Management and Operations of government (5.24-5.27). Importantly, “self-governance” is different than “self-determination,” but I’ll explain that later. The Agreement will turn the Anishinabek Nation/UOI into a central government (i.e. the Anishinabek Nation Government), but each member First Nation will have its own sphere of authority over the four areas noted above.

The ratification vote will take place February 1-29, 2020. Members of UOI First Nations who are over the age of 18 are eligible to vote, and voting can be done in one of three ways: in person, through mail-in ballot, or through an online vote.


While I have a number of concerns about the Agreement (highlighted below), there are at least two good things about it.

First, I like that it uses a confederacy model of governance. While the Agreement will establish the central Anishinabek Nation Government, I like that each member First Nation will retain the ability to make laws and govern itself (subject to certain limitations). To be clear, the Agreement sets up two levels of government: the Anishinabek Nation Government (Chapter 4), and then the First Nation Governments (Chapter 5). This means that Fort William would be able to continue to control its own membership and its leadership selection process through any future laws developed under the ANGA. Of course, Fort William already controls its membership and leadership selection under section 10 of the Indian Act and the First Nations Elections Act respectively, so I don’t see much of a gain here for us in practice. But the confederacy model is nonetheless a good thing to the extent that it distributes political power across all member First Nations.

Second, though not stated in the ANGA, there is money attached to the implementation plan. UOI documents show that each member First Nation will receive a one-time implementation fund of $548,000. This needs to last for at least ten years of implementation work, and possibly longer (16.4). While I haven’t seen any direction on how this money is to be spent, that works out to $54,800/year at best, which is just barely enough to hire one person to assist with this work over the ten year term.


Aside from the two good points noted above, I have at least six serious concerns with the ANGA as currently written. Others may arise over time, and some of my concerns may be resolved through further conversations. But for the time being, here they are:

1. Reinforcing the Chief and Council system

Articles 5.2 and 5.3 require each First Nation to maintain a written constitution before it ratifies the ANGA. To date, I have not been provided a copy of Fort William’s official constitution, even though UOI claims that we have one in place (see this map). I have asked band personnel for a copy of our official constitution, and I have also asked the UOI for a copy. No one has provided one to me yet.

However, I was able to find two incomplete versions of a FWFN constitution on the internet (one in the October 31-November 6, 2016 newsletter, and the other on the FWFN website). Based on what I’ve seen, the FWFN Chief and Council will remain in place if the ANGA is ratified. The draft FWFN constitutions that I have seen say nothing about moving towards a decolonized form of government. For example, rather than instituting a dodem-based system, the FWFN constitution merely reproduces the status quo.

That said, the ANGA enables Fort William to enact new leadership selection laws of any form (5.10). This means that instituting a decolonized form of governance is possible. For now, though, we would stay under the centralized Chief and Council system until such time as we create a new leadership law under the ANGA (10.14). In other words, the only thing that will change in the foreseeable future in terms of leadership is that Chief and Council will have more money at its disposal, and more control over government operations. Given that the Chief and Council system was created to assimilate Indigenous peoples, keeping it around isn’t necessarily a good thing to the extent that it precludes us from rebuilding inherent Anishinaabe governance systems.

2. The ANGA Takes us Further from the Robinson Treaty

Those championing the Agreement have been careful to point out that the ANGA does not undermine the treaties. And in a way, they are right: the ANGA does not abrogate or derogate treaty rights (3.3(a) and 8.7). However, I would argue that it works to mute the Robinson-Superior Treaty in at least two ways: First, it encourages all future self-government agreements to be negotiated through the ANGA itself (13.5 and 15.19). That means that if FWFN ever wants to take control over things like marriage, divorce, taxation, etc. (see 13.1), the stage is set for us to do so through the ANGA instead of the Robinson-Superior Treaty.

Second, the ANGA “domesticates” Anishinaabe sovereignty. Again, while it does not directly undermine the Robinson-Superior Treaty, it constructs our relationship with Canada as one of “government-to-government” rather than one of “nation-to-nation” (2.1(b), 7.1, and Schedule B). In other words, our treaty will continue to exist, but the ANGA channels FWFN’s relationship with the Crown as if we are simply another group of Canadians (like “Ontarians”) rather than a peoples who have an international relationship with the British sovereign. It is this relationship that sets First Nations apart from all other Canadians.

We can see this domestication at work in specific articles of the Agreement, especially those that bring Anishinaabe juridical authority under federal and provincial law. For example:

  • The Agreement is to be interpreted by the laws of Ontario rather than by the laws of Anishinaabeg (1.2);
  • Prosecution of offences will take place under Ontario’s Provincial Offences Act or under Canada’s Criminal Code (6.9); and,
  • Federal and provincial courts have jurisdiction to adjudicate a variety of matters under the Agreement (6.12 – 6.15).

Anishinaabe law continues to exist at Fort William (see this example), and should be given priority in our governance documents, whether the ANGA or otherwise. Articles 6.1 – 6.6 provide space for member First Nations and the Anishinabek Nation to use Anishinaabe law in restorative justice and mediation initiatives, as well as for imposing “Anishinaabe sanctions” (6.2) as an alternative to fines, penalties, or imprisonment (6.4). While these are steps forward, the fact that federal and provincial courts have jurisdiction is problematic to the extent that they reassert Canadian dominance over Anishinaabe lifeways.

In other words, the ANGA does not explicitly kill the treaty, but it sets the stage for it to whither away and die on its own.

3. The ANGA Contradicts itself

The Agreement runs counter to aspects of its preamble, specifically with regard to where governing authority comes from. The preamble states in part: “Debenjiged kiimiingona dedbinwe wi naagdowendiwin. Creator gave us sovereignty to govern ourselves.” I fully agree with this statement. Yet, if the Agreement is based on sovereignty provided by Creation, why then does the UOI feel the need to ask Canada for permission to be self-governing? Those who self-determine their lives do not have to ask for permission to do so. I have more to say on this below.

4. The ANGA is mostly redundant for Fort William

As alluded to above, the ANGA doesn’t actually provide much change for Fort William, at least not in the foreseeable future from what I’ve seen in the draft FWFN constitutions. It does provide more funding, and it does provide more autonomy over everyday management of governance operations (including financial administration, conduct of meetings, establishing “Anishinaabe Institutions”) (5.24).

That said, Fort William already has effective control over three major ANGA self-government areas, namely, leadership selection (5.10-5.11), citizenship (5.12-5.20), and culture and language (5.21-5.23). Note the following:

  • Fort William First Nation already has control over how leadership is selected. Chief and Council opted into the First Nations Election Act in 2019 through a BCR;
  • Fort William First Nation already controls its band membership. We took control of it in 1985 by writing our membership code in accordance with section 10 of the Indian Act;
  • Fort William First Nation already has control over its culture and language. The Indian Act made aspects of Indigenous cultural expression illegal, but the Act was changed in 1951 to no longer do this. In this sense, Fort William has been free to assert its culture and language for the past 70 years. Regardless of Canadian law, we have had this power since time immemorial, as can be seen in the fact that we have held annual pow wows on the mountain for generations.

Thus, if we already have control over much of what the ANGA stands to offer, I’m not sure it is worth marginalizing our treaty, or exchanging much of our self-determination for narrowly defined aspects of “self-government” (more on this below). I’d much rather see our leadership press Canada to relate with us on a nation-to-nation basis that foregrounds the treaty relationship.

5. Transparency

As noted above, I have not been able to review a copy of FWFN’s official constitution, despite asking the band for one, and despite raising this issue with the UOI. This is concerning not only for the obvious reason that the UOI has included FWFN in its list of bands with constitutions, but also because the ANGA ratification process itself rests in part on the principle of “openness and transparency” (15.2(a)). If this is the case, why has it been so difficult to find a copy of our official constitution?

6. No option for Citizen intervention at “Intergovernmental Forum”

Schedule B of the ANGA provides terms of reference for the “government-to-government” forum between the Anishinabek Nation and Canada. This forum is a platform for the parties to promote cooperation on “issues of mutual interest or concern.” I would assume that there is a process that citizens can use to ensure their needs are addressed in the forum by Anishinabek Nation Government representatives. However, there is no platform within the forum for citizens to intervene on their own behalf. This is problematic. Citizens should be given a way to make sure any lived issues/concerns arising from the ANGA can be aired at this level directly and without having to go though community leaders. Doing so would strengthen accountability.


The critical point to understand when reading self-governance agreements such as the ANGA is that they are instruments that domesticate Indigenous political and legal orders, bringing them further and further into the confines of Canadian sovereignty. This manifests in different ways. For example, it might show up in the form of saying Ontario courts have jurisdiction over matters arising from the Agreement, or it might show up in clauses that bar Anishinaabeg from inviting non-Canadians to live with them in their lands (4.17, 5.18). This is a death by a thousand cuts. The goal is to slowly but surely whittle away Anishinaabe political authority and jurisdiction as its own thing, and bring Anishinaabeg political life under the umbrella of Canada’s presumed authority over Indigenous peoples. Canada is not interested in deferring to inherent Indigenous political authority, and so it reconciles Anishinaabeg governance under its constitution, for example, as an “inherent right.” The language sounds great, but in fact it’s a magic trick. Lost in the transaction is the fact that Anishinaabeg already have self-determination outside of and before Canadian sovereignty, but such self-determination is exchanged for the more limited (and limiting) status of being self-governing – where Canada “allows” Indigenous folks a measure of control over some aspects of their lives, but only in relation to “matters that are integral to their unique cultures, identities, traditions, languages and institutions” (ANGA Preamble, para. 9). This promotes the idea that “authentic” Anishinaabe law and governance are frozen in the past, which simply is not true.

In other words, it is critical to stay vigilant and alert to the fact that “self-governance” is different than “self-determination.” Those who self-determine their lives do not have to ask for permission to do so. The Anishinabek Nation Governance Agreement is a self-governance agreement that, in my opinion, exchanges expansive Anishinaabeg self-determination for a more limited form of governance over four areas of life (leadership, citizenship, culture and language, and governance operations).

Finally, it’s important to note that UOI has also produced an “Anishinabek Nation Fiscal Agreement” which supports the ANGA (see Chapter 8 of ANGA). I did not reference this document in my review above, but I link it here for your consideration.

Baamaa pii: Parting words for Squid

Earlier today, we said goodbye to our friend, Squid.

Squid lost the use of his right hind leg last summer due to nerve damage in his spine. Our vet believed that this was a result of an infection. Luckily, we caught it before it spread to the other leg. Now partially paralyzed, we were able to raise money to buy him a wheelchair, which he used for seven months. However, with the start of this summer we saw a decline in his mobility; he no longer wanted to go to the dog parks. By September, the disease was spreading to his left hind leg, and he was showing signs of arthritis in his front legs. It wasn’t long after that that he could no longer stand or walk on his own.

I met Squid in 2006 when I returned from living in Europe. He was two years old by then, and was living with my mom and dad. But he decided that I was his human, and so he came with me to Peterborough, Ontario in 2008 when I started my undergraduate degree. He left me nine years later, departing the day after I finished my PhD.

Squid made friends around the country as I worked on my graduate degrees. While he was born in Fort William First Nation (Ontario), he ended up living in places like Victoria, Winnipeg, and Saskatoon, where he ended his journey. He touched the lives of people wherever he went. He taught me how to forgive myself.

Squid youngest
Baby Squid, Fort William First Nation, c.2004.

Squid spent his last days doing the things he loved most. Despite no longer being able to walk, he was able to go swimming in a local therapeutic pool for dogs; to take a trip to the beach; to enjoy our regular visits to the park where he chewed sticks and his favourite ball. He also ate like a king, munching on steak all week. And in his final hour he enjoyed his favourite taboo treat: buttermilk blueberry muffins from Starbucks.

Squid died surrounded by the people he loved: Sarah, my mom and I, and his little brother Emmett. We were with him to the end. He died in my arms.

Love for Gran, Thunder Bay, June 2016.

(Family photo at top by Nadya Kwandibens, March 2017)

Posted: Thursday, October 19, 2017


Call for Papers: Adoption and Indigenous Citizenship Orders

AlterNative: An International Journal of Indigenous Peoples
Special Edition on Adoption and Indigenous Citizenship Orders

Edited by Damien Lee and Kahente Horn-Miller

In recent years, questions about identity and belonging have forced their way into both Indigenous and mainstream conversations about what it means to be Indigenous. Most recently in Canada, for example, discussions regarding author Joseph Boyden’s claim to Indigenous identity have dominated public discourse. Some argue that bloodlines are enough for someone to claim Indigeneity while others argue that bloodlines have less to do with belonging than do the political processes Indigenous peoples use to claim individuals on their own terms.

However, adoption inevitably gets brought into such discussions, even when the person at the centre of debate makes no claims to being adopted. The discussion about Boyden’s Indigeneity offers a case in point – while he narrated his Indigeneity as a matter of bloodline and oral history, others tried to demonstrate the fluidity of Indigenous citizenship orders by bringing adoption into the discussion on his claims. In the end, it was announced that he would be adopted by an Anishinaabe family, a development that was met with more questions than answers. As these recent events show, the introduction of adoption into conversations about belonging can cause confusion and anger, while also pointing to the vitality of Indigenous citizenship orders today.

One reason for such confusion is the dearth of scholarly attention devoted to exploring the importance and challenges of adoption in contemporary Indigenous citizenship-making practices. Up to this point, adoption has been discussed in both dubious and celebratory terms. In their 2012 article “Decolonization is not a Metaphor,” for example, Eve Tuck and K. Wayne Yang rightfully argue that adoption can be used as a settler move to innocence, where it is used as a means to shirk responsibilities to decolonize. Alternatively, Indigenous peoples and communities continue to use adoption to assert their self-determination when determining who belongs with them. Thus, while the latter offers great possibility for better understanding how Indigenous citizenship orders centre and enact self-determination, little writing exists in the way of explaining adoption’s role within Indigenous citizenship governance systems, its limitations within these systems, and ways in which the practice may or may not account for settler colonialism and white supremacy. In this sense, adoption narratives offer opportunities to think through the complexities of Indigenous citizenship governance in the present.

Given the complexities glossed above, we invite article submissions to a special edition of the AlterNative Journal exploring adoption’s significance to and within Indigenous peoples’ citizenship orders. Topics may include but are not limited to:

  • the importance of adoption to Indigenous citizenship-making historically and contemporarily;
  • the limits of adoption as Indigenous citizenship-making within a settler colonial context;
  • the ways in which adoption centres familial sovereignties rather than colonial legislation/actors;
  • adoption as “settler move to innocence,” and how Indigenous peoples have addressed such a concern;
  • intersectional approaches to understanding both the limits and opportunities of adoption in Indigenous citizenship orders;
  • the ways in which adoption brings political rather than merely sexual self-determination to the fore in citizenship discussions; and,
  • the role adoption has played/can play in queering Indigenous citizenship orders.

Importantly, we are interested in publishing divergent as well as convergent viewpoints on this topic. We believe that the tensions arising around adoption and belonging within settler colonial contexts bring with them important lessons to be learned.

Abstracts of no more than 250 words should be submitted by August 1, 2017 for review. The authors of those abstracts selected for inclusion will be invited to develop a full article of between 5,000-7,000 words by September 15, 2017. Please note: selected articles will go through two rounds of blind peer review; the first will be coordinated by the guest editors, and the second will be managed by the AlterNative Journal editorial board. Selected authors should therefore prepare for up to two rounds of revisions.

Full articles must conform to the Sixth Edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. More information on AlterNative Journal submission guidelines is available here.

All correspondence, including submissions and questions, should sent by email to: Adoption.AlterNativeJournal@gmail.com

Guest Editor Bios
Dr. Damien Lee engages with the space of Indigenous Studies from the position of a cis-gendered racially-white man who belongs with the Anishinaabeg of the northern shore of Lake Superior. He was adopted as an infant into Fort William First Nation in accordance with Anishinaabe law, and raised as Anishinaabe by his family. Damien is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Indigenous Studies at the University of Saskatchewan. He is also wrapping up his dissertation, which employs Indigenist research methodologies to understand what Anishinaabe citizenship orders look like through adoption narratives within his community.

Dr. Kahente Horn-Miller is Bear Clan and a Kanien’kehá:ka mother from Kahnawà:ke. It is through her motherhood, governance work, community based research and performances rooted in Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) culture and traditions she actively puts Indigenous theory into practice. An Assistant Professor in the School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies at Carleton University, she is currently working on a manuscript about (re)conciliation and the Great Law of Peace. This work is centred in the issues of Indigenous sovereignty, identity, and Haudenosaunee philosophy as expressed through visual culture, stories, acts of resistance and social practice.

Briefing Note: Fort William Band Council Resolutions re 1987 Membership Code

December 1, 2016

On November 30, 2016, the Fort William First Nation (FWFN) chief and council approved two Band Council Resolutions (BCRs) pertaining to the 1987 FWFN band membership code. This briefing note explains the implications of these two BCRs, and contextualizes them within the history of the 1987 band membership code.

Context: The Indian Act, 1985
In 1985, the Indian Act was amended in such a way that allowed Indian bands to control their own membership lists. Section 10(1) of the Act provides that a band may control its membership list by meeting three criteria: 1. it writes its own membership code; 2. it gives appropriate notice to the Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada that the band wishes to assume control over its membership (this includes sending the code to the Minister for review); and, 3. a majority of the electors of the band consent to the band taking control of its membership list. According to section 10(8) of the Act, once approved by the Minister, the membership code submitted becomes the law governing band membership decisions “from the day on which notice is given to the Minister.”

The 1987 FWFN Band Membership Code
Fort William First Nation took advantage of section 10 of the Indian Act. It developed its own membership code in consultation with the community, leadership, and a lawyer. On June 24, 1987, the majority of the electors approved the membership code. It was then sent to the Minister of Indian Affairs in July 1988. Finally, on June 26, 1990, after some correspondence between Fort William and the federal government, the Minister of Indian Affairs, Mr. Tom Siddon, gave notice to Fort William that “pursuant to subsection 10(7) of the Indian Act … the Fort William Band has control of its membership effective June 26, 1987.” With that, the 1987 band membership code became law, and has remained the law governing FWFN band membership since.

The November 30, 2016 BCR’s
As listed in the November 30, 2016 FWFN chief and council meeting agenda, the following two BCR’s were discussed and approved by council:

  1. BCR16-76 – Ratification of 1987 Membership Code
  2. BCR16-77 – Development of Membership Committee and Membership Court

1. BCR16-76 – Ratification of 1987 Membership Code
The name of this BCR is misleading. It does not “ratify” the 1987 band membership code. As noted above, the code became law through Ministerial approval in 1990. Rather, BCR16-76 merely acknowledges that the 1987 membership code is the law governing deletions and additions to the FWFN membership list. This BCR rights an historical wrong: as Ken Ogimaa, FWFN Chief Executive Office, put it during the meeting, Fort William First Nation has been failing those who rightfully belong by not using the 1987 membership code. This BCR also provides protection for the band in the event that it is taken to court over its membership decisions; as Mr. Ogimaa suggested during the meeting, Fort William could be found to be breaking the law if it was found to be not using its own membership code. There is legal precedent for such a scenario. After discussion, the FWFN chief and council voted unanimously to approve BCR16-76 during the November 30th meeting.

2. BCR16-77 – Development of Membership Committee and Membership Court
This BCR implements two components of the 1987 FWFN membership code. The 1987 code requires that 1. a membership committee be established, and, 2. a membership court be appointed by chief and council. The membership committee makes the majority of decisions regarding band membership. The membership court, on the other hand, is an appeal mechanism; it allows individuals denied membership by the membership committee an avenue to have their denial overturned. Importantly, according to the 1987 membership code, the FWFN chief and council does not decide who is a member of the band. The only roles allotted to chief and council in regard to deciding membership are to: a) establish a membership committee, b) appoint individuals to the membership court, and c) approve out-adoption of children adopted by another Indian band (more information is available here). After discussion, the FWFN chief and council voted unanimously to approve BCR16-77 during the November 30th meeting.

What does it all Mean?
First and foremost, the approvals of BCR16-76 and BCR16-77 re-centre Fort William’s band membership practices on the 1987 membership code. The following list highlights important aspects of how this affects membership decisions at FWFN:

  1. Indian status is not a prerequisite to become a member of the band. Non-status band members have certain rights under section 4.1 of the Indian Act (for example: they may vote in band elections, and may receive land claims money).
  2. A child is a member of the band if one or both of her parents are members of the band. However, a child must apply for probationary membership in the band if she has “one parent who is a member of the Band, and that parent also has only one parent who is a member of the Band.” The probationary period is 5 years.
  3. A person who is not a member of the band, but marries a member of the band, can apply for probationary membership (5 year waiting period). Marriages can take place according to “provincial law” or “Indian custom.”
  4. A person who transfers from another band does not automatically become a member of Fort William. Rather, they must apply to be a probationary member of the band. (5 year waiting period)
  5. Adoption is a basis for automatic membership in the band: “A child who is adopted by a member or members of the Band shall, as of the date of the adoption, become a member of the band.” No probationary period required.

Note: Becoming a member of the Fort William Indian band does not entitle one to Indian status under the Indian Act.

Next Steps
As was made apparent in the November 30th chief and council meeting, next steps now include establishing the membership committee and appointing individuals to the membership court. Certain sections of the 1987 membership code may also need to be changed (e.g. one section bars anyone with communicable disease from applying for probationary membership). I would suggest that most of this revision work has already been completed; see the draft Fort William First Nation Citizenship Code, 2015, which was developed by the FWFN Governance Committee through community consultation over 2014 and 2015.

Difficult Questions
While the passage of BCR16-76 and BCR16-77 are important steps for Fort William First Nation, several questions remain. As one FWFN councillor asked during the November 30th chief and council meeting, what about those individuals whose names have been added to the band membership list since 1987 in ways other than by using the membership code? Are they members of the band?

Furthermore, if the band has not been following its own membership code for an indeterminate amount of time, it can be assumed the membership list includes some names of people whom are not members of the band (in cases where they were made members outside of the membership code), and potentially excludes names of people whom otherwise might have been members of the band under the 1987 membership code (e.g. those who rightfully belong but are not status Indians). This is a troubling scenario. A band’s elector’s list is based on its membership list. If paragraphs 103 and 104 of the federal court case Cameron v Canada 2012 have any bearing at Fort William, the band might need to revise its membership list in accordance with its 1987 membership code before any future voting can happen. How does this affect the spring 2017 chief and council election? How does it affect the impending Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Specific Claim Settlement ratification vote scheduled for early 2017?


“Anishinaabe and Métis Territory?”: An Ice Breaker

The following is an open letter that was sent to the Dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, and the Chair of Truth and Reconciliation, Lakehead University, on November 10, 2016:


Once upon a time, explorers showed up in Anishinaabe aki and claimed it as their own. This was just part of how things were done then – if one group of explorers found Indigenous lands before another group, they assumed ownership to that land and named it. This method could be said to be the early beginnings of how Canada became a country. For Anishinaabeg, however, such naming and claiming is part of a larger process of ignoring Anishinaabeg peoples’ inherent relationship and responsibilities with the lands, waters, and beings we’ve lived with for thousands of years. Today, the Robinson-Superior Treaty and Robinson-Huron Treaty of 1850 and Treaty 3 (1873) may be utilized to push back on unilateral claiming. These treaties remain expressions of Anishinaabe territorial sovereignty today.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and the issue of naming as claiming remains in effect. But things are more complicated now; generations of identity regulation by the federal government have produced divisions between Indigenous peoples, awarding recognition to some and none to others. This politics of federal recognition is one way in which Canada lays claims to land: recognizing the territorial claims of those who find their self-governance authority within what the settler state will allow is much safer than recognizing the sovereignty of Indigenous nations that exist outside its purview. It is with this history in mind that we as Anishinaabeg and Indigenous scholars wish to discuss a recent claim to Anishinaabe territory.

In October 2016, Lakehead University posted to its website an employment opportunity for professorship in its Bora Laskin Faculty of Law. In part, that posting read: “Given the Faculty’s presence in Anishinaabe and Métis territory, preference will be given to qualified candidates with research and teaching expertise in either Anishinaabe law or Métis law or both.” While we are excited to see the establishment of a law program in Anishinaabe aki that centres Indigenous legal systems, as Anishinaabe citizens and scholars we aren’t sure how to interpret Lakehead’s claim that Thunder Bay, Ontario and surrounding areas are Anishinaabe and Métis territory. In truth, we were somewhat surprised. Within our respective families, communities, and research, we had not come across such a claim until now. We would therefore like to discuss this claim openly.

Before we share our thoughts, we want to acknowledge and recognize that Métis have and continue to experience colonial violence from Canadians and other Indigenous nations alike. In addition to land theft in the West and other forms of violence, this has also taken the form of questioning the very existence of Métis. We do not want to perpetuate such violence. We also want to be transparent that we have professional, personal and familial relationships with Métis individuals and families that we wish to uphold.

We also recognize that Métis identity is currently being debated by Métis themselves. Such debates put definitions of “Métis-as-mixed” in contrast with Métis as political peoplehood. While many Métis live within many different treaty areas including within Robinson Treaty lands and in Treaty 3 territory, we recognize the Métis as Indigenous peoples who came to define themselves as Métis through the establishment of a unique political consciousness in the Red River area and points west. Conversely, we agree with Métis scholars who argue that framing Métis as “mixed” effects all Indigenous nations in Canada because such approaches centre biological essentialism at the expense of the political consciousness and sovereignty that underwrites Indigenous peoples as nations.

These issues take on further complexity in northwestern Ontario for a number of reasons. One, the Métis Nation of Ontario (MNO) is engaging in agreements with natural resource corporations. Two, historically, many Anishinaabeg were misrecognized as “halfbreeds” by the Crown and its representatives. We understand that these MNO agreements with the settler government are being addressed by other Anishinaabeg and Métis so we will not address this here. Regarding misrecognition, this was a gendered and racialized approach to defining identity by prioritizing biological mixedness above Anishinaabe citizenship orders. For example, the Métis Nation of Ontario’s website states, “Prior to Canada’s crystallization as a nation, a new Aboriginal people emerged out of the relations of Indian women and European men.” We’d like to draw attention to how this implies Anishinaabe women were reimagined as being responsible for creating a new nation at the expense of their Anishinaabe citizenship, a reworking that both legitimizes Métis-as-mixed nationhood claims while removing women from being Anishinaabeg. Such constructions of Métis nationhood create complexities in understanding historical northern Ontario politics: we are aware that, in the lead up to the signing of the Robinson Treaties of 1850, some halfbreeds at Sault Ste. Marie claimed a separateness from Anishinaabeg and the nascent settler societies that would become Canada. We are also aware of the Halfbreed Adhesion to Treaty 3 (in 1874). Yet we would like to draw attention to how many “halfbreeds” were considered Anishinaabe through matrilineal Anishinaabe kinship and clan systems despite having some European ancestry. Indeed the issue of their “white blood” was not problematic until treaty negotiations when settler colonial governments needed to categorize and quantify “her Majesty’s Indians.” In fact, among Anishinaabeg, often halfbreeds were distinguished from Métis through different identifiers like “Red River Indians.” This is not to say that said halfbreed communities were not Indigenous, nor is it to say Métis did not travel back and forth from the Red River to these locales while using kinship governance to do so. However, we concur with Métis scholars when they suggest that said communities may or may not have thought of themselves in ways separate from the Métis of the west. Clearly, working through northern Ontario history requires great care in order to avoid reproducing settler colonial constructions of Indigeneity. Though committed to this ethic, we nonetheless struggle to do it right.

Getting back to the job ad, we are concerned that the phrase “Anishinaabe and Métis territory” rhetorically and powerfully names and claims Anishinaabe territory as Métis territory. First, we worry that the claim of Métis territory is a false claim. Halfbreeds were no doubt present at Fort William since the 19th century, but so were settler colonialists that sought to eliminate Anishinaabe presence through gendered and racialized misrecognition. Without a clear definition of what is “Métis territory” in this ad, we worry Lakehead may be reproducing a Métis-as-mixed-based claim to territoriality.

Further, in response to several emails inquiring into the meaning of this claim of “Métis territory,” on November 8, 2016 Dean Angelique EagleWoman responded. She suggested the Métis Nation of Ontario be contacted to gain an understanding of Métis presence in the Thunder Bay area. We were also made aware of the LU Faculty of Law’s 2013 protocol agreement, signed in part by the Métis Nation of Ontario as well as the Anishinabek Nation (Union of Ontario Indians), Grand Council Treaty #3, and the Nishnawbe Aski Nation. Unfortunately, this response does not provide any clarification to the query into the meaning of “Métis territory.” First, the job advertisement claims territory, not presence. Second, ensconcing the relationship between the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law and the MNO in the internal architecture of “Advisory Committees” and “Protocol Agreements” also fails to elucidate the meanings of “Métis territory” that are being claimed in this job ad. The long silence between the emails sent and the response, paired with an opaque response that was eventually given on November 8th, which essentially sends Anishinaabeg down a garden path, is disappointing. In an era of Truth and Reconciliation, this way of responding to Anishinaabeg is also curious. Given the outcome of these initial exchanges, we pursue another angle. Here, we wish to attend to Métis agency–or rather, MNO agency–in advancing their interests in Anishinaabe homeland, lands, and territory. We also prompt Lakehead to reflect on its agency and interests in supporting the trajectory being taken by this organization on behalf of Métis.

Following this trajectory that queries Métis agency, we worry that this naming upholds a politics of recognition whereby Anishinaabe lands and waters are claimed by Métis and organizations without the express sanction of Anishinaabeg themselves. As we see it, recognition from Canadian law and jurisprudence is not enough to claim Métis title within Anishinaabe territory. Rather, we feel that if Métis want to claim land within Anishinaabe territory, and use settler institutions to advance their agenda, they would need to first have those conversations and agreements with Anishinaabeg. This would occur outside of Canadian law and Canadian institutions. We are unaware of any such serious and important conversations being had to date.

In thinking about Lakehead’s claim that it sits on Anishinaabe and Métis territory, we have come to see other potential dangers emerging more broadly within Canada. We see potential for the state to push its brand of “reconciliation” through universities, sometimes using Indigenous individuals to do so, to undermine Indigenous nationhood. Lakehead’s claim to sit within Anishinaabe and Métis territory acts as a microcosm in which we can see how the state uses its power to recognize forms of Indigenous nationhood that are amenable to its distorted version of sovereignty, namely “self-government.” Through recognizing self-government of Indigenous nations where such recognition is based on Canadian liberal multiculturalist approaches to Indigeneity–as opposed to decolonization–the state can work to hijack nationhood claims. Drawing on the Lakehead claim as an example, through recognizing Métis claims to Anishinaabe territory, the state and individuals within the university advancing its agenda, can erase Anishinaabe territorial sovereignty under a narrative of Canadian aboriginal and multicultural politics. In doing so, Canadian multiculturalism is positioned as timeless and universal. Anishinaabe sovereignty is eroded in this scenario.

For this reason, we wish to centre Indigenous political and legal orders in territorial claims as well as in relationships between Indigenous peoples and the state, and amongst Indigenous nations. It is not enough to rely on recognition from the Canadian state to make claims to another peoples’ territory. To be just in a decolonizing sense, claiming territory must be done through Indigenous nation-to-Indigenous nation relationships and agreements. The creation and use of wampum belts to document and practice relationships between Indigenous Nations is just one example. Particular to our situation, we have a responsibility to centre Anishinaabe law within all Anishinaabe territory. We therefore have a responsibility to centre Anishinaabe law within Métis-Anishinaabe territory claims, and this must trump any claims made through Métis-Canada/Ontario relationships. Moreover, in centring Anishinaabe law within a decolonizing context, we have a responsibility to centre the experiences, knowledges and voices or Nokomisag (grandmothers), Anishinabekwewag (women), and two-spirited peoples.

In closing, we would request Lakehead University change its job ad with the above points in mind, and, accordingly, review any other of its statements where Anishinaabe territory is discussed. Perhaps, as an example, the job ad could be rephrased to state “….situated in Anishinaabeg territory, specifically within Treaty 3, the Robinson-Superior Treaty area, and the Williams Treaty area of the Anishinaabeg and Canada. Through kinship with Anishinaabeg, this territory is also home to many Métis.” We also request discussion with Lakehead University and other universities located within Anishinaabe territories about moving forward in constructing shared understandings about where we live, work, play, and learn. Finally, we urge our Anishinabe relatives–our grassroots leaders in our communities and our leaders through traditional government and political/territorial organization–take notice of what has taken place, and voice any of your concerns or ideas in regards to how territory is claimed in instances such as this.


Makwa dodem
Waaseyaa’sin Christine Sy
Lac Seul First Nation member
Ph.D Candidate, Indigenous Studies (Trent University)
Lecturer, Gender Studies (University of Victoria)

Waase dodem
Damien Lee – Zoongde
Fort William First Nation citizen
Ph.D Candidate, Native Studies (University of Manitoba)
Assistant Professor, Indigenous Studies (University of Saskatchewan)

Makwa nin dodem
Anang Onimiwin nnindishnikaz gaye Dr. Celeste Pedri-Spade, PhD (University of Victoria)
Lac des Mille Lacs First Nation member
Assistant Professor, School of Northern and Community Studies (Laurentian University)

Helen Pelletier
Fort William First Nation member

Tannis Kastern
Fort William First Nation member
Lakehead University Student Union
Director & Member of Lakehead University Native Student Association/National Aboriginal Caucus (CFS)

Stephanie MacLaurin
Fort William First Nation
Master of Arts Candidate, Indigenous Governance (University of Victoria)

Kingfisher Dodem
Geraldine King
Kiashke Zaaging Anishinaabek member
Ph.D Student, Queens University

Dennis McPherson
B.A., H.B.S.W., LL.B., H.B.A., LL.M.
Couchiching First Nation
Associate Professor
Department of Indigenous Learning
Lakehead University

Paul Chartrand, I.P.C.
B.A., LL.B.(Hons), LL.M.
St. Laurent, MB


When is it ok to be Racist?

By Jana-Rae Yerxa and Damien Lee

As we woke up yesterday morning, we read a piece on CBC News Thunder Bay about a complaint against Thunder Bay Police arising in the context of cross-cultural sensitivity training. The training was a part of the Walk a Mile Film Project, a partnership between the City of Thunder Bay and Thunderstone Pictures. In this training program which has become mandatory for City of Thunder Bay employees, race and Indigeneity are to be talked about as a means to promote understanding about Indigenous peoples for Canadians. However, as was clear in the news article, such a goal was allegedly undermined by the actions of a few cops.

Since Walk a Mile was “designed to encourage frank conversations in our community about the reality of life for [Indigenous] Peoples both here and across Canada,” we would like to add another layer of context that has been missing from the narrative up to this point.

While reading the article, it was clear to us that the complaint made against police was more than just about a “few bad apples.” Rather, it speaks to a system of power that upholds whiteness over Indigenous peoples, a symptom of colonial relations. No doubt it is a challenge to put together training that aims to address deep rooted issues like racism towards Indigenous Peoples. Miigwech to Thunderstone Pictures and the City of Thunder Bay for taking on such a challenging endeavor.

However, one of the main issues that does not get talked about enough in Thunder Bay is in identifying the approach taken when educating and creating space for such discussions. Approach matters because it determines what people walk away with and how conversations unfold. It is troubling when the approach taken, specifically in regards to race relations, is to educate white people about the “other” where the focus is on educating settler folks about an ‘Aboriginal experience,’ about ‘Aboriginal people’ and ‘Aboriginal history,’ instead of pointing the lens at settler colonialism and whiteness, both of which are root causes of the racial violence that Indigenous peoples experience. The approach of educating people who occupy dominant positions in this society about the “other” is harmful because it presents a guise of meaningful work, when the work needed — dismantling settler colonialism and ending settler colonial violence — is not actually being done.

With Walk a Mile in particular, the challenges are multiple from the beginning due to the partnership with the City of Thunder Bay. The issue of power must be highlighted here because of the structural power the City of Thunder Bay holds at the expense of Indigenous presence and how this power can be used and/or abused. By this, we mean that Walk a Mile is designed to speak to power – white power – in spaces where potentially those with the most power can make fun of Indigenous struggles without examining their own complicity with colonial violence. When this happens, it is not anti-colonialism or anti-racism, but a redeployment of violence through knowing the “other.”

Another important factor for us to consider when partnering cross culturally to address “race relations,” when structural power imbalances exist, are accountability measures. So in this instance, what accountability measures are in place, if any, to the Indigenous community? Accountability measures are crucial to ensuring that training, developed in partnership with Indigenous peoples, cannot be used as a ‘check mark’ by mainstream institutions. It would prevent the City from saying, “Look at what we are doing here to address racism,” when in reality the training may be not as successful as it is presented to be. It is also extremely problematic if Indigenous peoples are not the determiners of whether the training is achieving what it was intended to achieve.

In response to the Walk a Mile facilitator’s complaint, Thunder Bay city clerk John Hannam dismissed the alleged racism by stating police laughter during the training was “misinterpreted,” that it was part of a “side bar conversation,” and that the training “happened during a week when the attack on police in the United States and six or seven officers were murdered so there may have been some heightened sensitivity over that.” However, Hannam’s apologist response to these allegations is a part of the very problem we wish to shed light on. His response is a perfect example of what Sara Ahmed talks about in regards to evidence where racism is “denied because it is seen as a fault of perception…you perceive wrongly when you perceive wrong.” While the filmmaker behind Walk a Mile is calling for a public review of the city’s use of her work, it is also important to ask the question whether such a partnership with the City can be one that is accountable, anti-colonial or ethical considering the power relations we have spoken of here.

The complaint raised by the Walk a Mile facilitator has created an opportunity for us all to critically reflect how we contextualize significant matters, such as racism, that impact Indigenous humanity. In a city where the families of six dead Indigenous children called for police racism to be included in the scope of an inquest, and in a country where people are demanding police racism be analyzed as part of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls and 2 Spirit Inquiry, such allegations ask us to connect the dots: Indigenous peoples want the police investigated for anti-Indigenous racism. If anything, yesterday’s CBC story only demonstrates that such analysis is needed and leaves us with pondering the question, when is it okay to be racist?