Dr. Pamela D. Palmater (Mi’kmaq), member of the Eel River Bar First Nation, is a prominent lawyer and activist for the rights of Indigenous people and nations. During the 2012 leadership race for national chief of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN), Palmater challenged incumbent Sean Atleo, in hopes of becoming the first woman to lead the assembly.
Palmater is chair of Indigenous Governance and an associate professor in Ryerson University’s department of Politics and Public Administration. She is the academic director of the university’s Centre for Indigenous Governance. Prior to her academic career, Palmater worked at Justice Canada and for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. In 1998, she was called to the bar in New Brunswick. She received her doctorate in the Science of Law from Dalhousie University in 2009.
Until 2011, Palmater did not have full membership in her family’s first nation. Her grandmother married a non-Aboriginal person, which made Palmater ineligible for status until recent changes in the law under Bill C-3. She maintains the Indigenous Nationhood website. Her doctoral work focused on Indigenous nation membership, the Indian act and issues of status. Her thesis, Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity, was published by Purich in 2011.
Palmater’s AFN campaign sparked a great deal of interest and became a hot topic of conversation on social media, particularly amongst Aboriginal youth. She called for more involvement of the grassroots in the AFN and was a strong critic of Atleo’s approach to working with the Conservative government. Palmater’s platform was also critical of what she sees as assimilationist policies undertaken by the current government. She called for first nations to gain a bigger share of the wealth from natural resources on their territories and for Canada to honour the agreements it has made with Aboriginal nations.
“Everyone talks about resetting the relationship. There’s nothing to reset. The treaty relationship is there. We just now have to get Canada to live up to its part of the bargain.”
During the campaign, Palmater also talked about the need to call a “state of emergency” to address housing issues in some first nations communities.
Prior to her AFN leadership bid, Palmater had never served as chief of a first nation. Palmater finished second to Atleo in the Assembly of First Nations race, with 141 votes in the third round of ballots to his 341.
Lawrence, B. “Real” Indians and Others: Mixed Blood Urban Native Peoples and Indigenous Nationhood (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004).
Palmater, P. Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity. Saskatoon: Purich Publishing, 2011.
Palmater, P. “Stretched Beyond Human Limits: Death by Poverty in First Nations.” Canadian Review of Social Policy/Revue Canadienne de Politique Social 65/66 (2011): 112-127.