Joan Jack

Map of Manitoba.

Map of Manitoba.

Joan Jack (Aanishinaabe Ikwe) of Berens River First Nation is a lawyer and specialist in Aboriginal and treaty rights. Jack was called to the Manitoba Bar in 1996 and worked as Lands and Resources director with the Taku River Tlingit First Nation. She taught business and native studies at the Northern Lights College in Atlin, BC. In 2003, Jack returned to Manitoba and opened the Joan Jack Law Office. In January 2012, she was elected councilor in Berens River. She is leading a class action lawsuit seeking $15 billion in damages on behalf of “Indian day school” survivors.

During the Assembly of First Nations 2012 leadership race, Jack was one of four women in the running for national chief. She was known for her use of social media, commenting frequently on Twitter and Facebook. On July 12, in an interview with the Aboriginal People’s Television Network (APTN), she decried sexist comments and jokes made by rival male candidates and their supporters. She did not, however, describe the comments, nor did she identify the offending candidates.

Jack received 20 votes in the first ballot, placing her second to last ahead of George Stanley, which caused her to be dropped from the second ballot. She did not continue into further rounds nor officially throw her support to any other candidate, though she did indicate support for Atleo and critiqued Palmater’s campaign for attacking the incumbent.

Further Reading & Resources

Joan Jack Website.

Day School Class Action.

Methodist Indian Day Schools and Indian Communities in Northern Manitoba, 1890-1925.

Pamela Palmater



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.

Further reading:

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.

Katsitsakwas Ellen Gabriel

Photo via Michael Paolucci/Flickr user druojajay.

Photo via Michael Paolucci/Flickr user druojajay.

Katsitsakwas Ellen Gabriel (Kanien’kehá:ka Nation – Turtle Clan) first rose to prominence during her community’s resistance to a proposed expansion of a private nine-hole golf course into a sacred grove of pines near the town of Oka, Quebec in 1990. The resulting standoff at Kanehsatà:ke between Mohawk people and the Canadian army became known as the “Oka crisis,” and lasted for 78 days. Gabriel was chosen by the People of the Longhouse to act as a spokesperson for the community, and she became one of the faces of the struggle against the destruction of the pine grove.

The media has often presented the events at Kanehsatà:ke as a highly gendered event, with male Canadian soldiers facing off against male Mohawk warriors. The most iconic photograph of the crisis is one in which a soldier and a masked warrior stare each other down. The effect of this representation of the Oka crisis has served to erase the important role Mohawk women played in the resistance movement at Kanehsatà:ke. Gabriel was front and centre during the stand-off, acting as a key negotiatior and media spokesperson. She also spoke about the presence and leadership of women behind the barricades.

Gabriel has continued in her role as an activist for Indigenous rights since 1990. She has traveled internationally to speak about the events at Kanehsatà:ke. She has also participated in the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous issues and the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

In 2004, Gabriel was elected president of the Quebec Native Women’s Association, a position she held until 2010. During the summer of 2012, Gabriel ran in the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) leadership race for the position of national chief.

She came last in the second round of ballots, with 17 votes, after which she threw her support behind Pamela Palmater.

Further Reading and Resources

Alfred, G.R. Heeding the Voices of Our Ancestors: Kahnawake Mohawk Politics and the Rise of Native Nationalism. Oxford University Press, 1995.

Conradi, A. Uprising at Oka: A Place of Non-identification. Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 34 (2009) 547-566.

Obomsawin, A. Kanehsatake: 270 Years of Resistance. NFB, 1993.

York, G. & Pindera, L. People of the Pines: The Warriors and the legacy of Oka. USA: Little, Brown, 1991.