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Palmater, Pamela

Palmater, Pamela


Chair in Indigenous Governance



J.S.D. (Doctor in the Science of Law): Dalhousie


Pamela Palmater is a Mi’kmaq lawyer whose family originates from the Eel River Bar First Nation in northern New Brunswick. She is Full Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University. In addition to her faculty appointment as an Associate Professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration, Dr. Palmater holds the Chair in Indigenous Governance, and is also a member of the Yeates School of Graduate Studies, affiliated with the MA program in Public Policy and Administration.

Pamela Palmater completed her Doctorate in the Science of Law (JSD) at Dalhousie University Law Faculty in 2009. Her thesis is entitled: Beyond Blood: Rethinking Aboriginal Identity and Belonging.  In addition, she holds a Master in Laws (LLM) from Dalhousie University in Aboriginal Law, a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) at the University of New Brunswick, and a Bachelor of Arts (BA) with a double major in Native Studies and History from St. Thomas University in New Brunswick.

She was called to the bar in New Brunswick in 1998 and is a member of the Law Society of New Brunswick, the Canadian Bar Association and the Indigenous Bar Association. She worked for the federal government on Aboriginal issues for over 10 years. Her position as a lawyer at Justice Canada involved various legal matters pertaining to First Nations. She also held several positions as Director at Indian and Northern Affairs, managing treaties, claims, self-government, land and registration portfolios. She also worked and/or volunteered with national and provincial Aboriginal organisations and communities.

Pamela Palmater was one of the 23 Visionary Women Leaders [Click here for a full list] selected to meet and answer the question “What do 23 women envision for our country for the next 150 years?”  A Bold Vision (an organization formed by a coalition of women’s organizations in Prince Edward Island, with support from PEI 2014 Inc.) held a conference in Charlottetown, PEI on September 24-26, 2014 to commemorate the 1864 Charlottetown Conference that led to the formation of Canada, to celebrate the vital role women played and will continue to play in the advancement of Canada, and to update the 1864 vision of the 23 men (the Fathers of Confederation).  Canadians nominated women leaders from all walks of life to participate in this discussion of the future of Canada. [For more details, see, and] All of the participants contributed to a book sharing their vision for Canada, which was released during the conference.

Dr. Palmater was elected Associate Senior Fellow at Massey College (UofT), effective 24 April 2015.

In March 2016, Dr. Palmater was invited to be an inaugural member of the External Advisory Council of the MacEachen Institute for Publiic Policy and Governance.  On 09 May 2016, the Institute was formally launched at a ceremony at Dalhousie University.  Click here for details.

Awards and Recognition

On 02 November 2017, Dr. Palmater received the inaugural Award for Excellence in Human Rights presented by the Atlantic Human Rights Centre, St. Thomas University, Fredericton, NB, and delivered the Vigod Lecture in Human Rights. See story here.

On 18 May 2017, a Doctor of Laws honoris causa was conferred on Dr. Palmater by the University of New Brunswick.  Click here for citation.

On 04 October 2016, the International Community Corrections Association (ICCA) honoured Dr. Palmater with the Margaret Mead Award, considered the highest honour presented by the Association.  It is given to an individual who has demonstrated leadership in the field of community corrections through guidance, innovative ideas, influence on policy and/or dedicated service to the ideals and goals of community-based correctional programming.  Dr. Palmater was recognised as a leader, an innovator, and a social justice advocate.  Click here for details.

On 29 May 2016, Dr. Palmater was named recipient of the 19th annual J.S. Woodsworth Woman of Excellence Award.  The award was presented by the Hon. Andrea Horwath, Leader, Ontario New Democratic Party.

In May 2016 the Elementary Teachers' Federation of Ontario recognized Dr. Palmater as one of 21 inspirational First Nations, Métis, and Inuit women in Canada.  The contributions of the women are commemorated in a poster to be circulated to all elementary schools in Ontario.  

At an Award Dinner on 26 March 2015, in St. John, NB, Dr. Palmater received the University of New Brunswick 2015 UNB Alumni Award of Distinction for her social justice work for First Nations that has been recognized nationally and internationally.

On 29 October 2012, Dr. Palmater was inducted into the Bertha Wilson Honour Society by Kim Brooks, Dean, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University.  Click here for photos of the ceremony.

Recognising her as "... a trailblazing role model for young Indigenous women, planting seeds of change that are transforming Indigenous communities across Canada,” the YWCA named her a Woman of Distinction in the Social Justice category for 2012.

Research Interests:

Dr. Palmater's current research interests relate to Aboriginal Governance matters, specifically how land and natural resources, treaties and Aboriginal rights, jurisdiction and law-making powers and citizenship and identity issues can contribute to stronger Aboriginal families, communities, organisations and Nations.  A key part of this research is the ever-changing political structures and relationships within and between Aboriginal communities, their relationships with the state and on the international stage. She is interested in partnering with Aboriginal organisations and communities to conduct further research in these areas.

Current Courses:

Dr. Palmater’s areas of teaching expertise and interest include Aboriginal Governance and Justice; Comparative Indigenous Studies; Human Rights (both domestic and international); and Constitutional Law (including the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms), and she can supervise students who wish to undertake independent studies, Masters or doctoral studies in research areas relating to Aboriginal peoples.

Selected Publications:

  • Restoring the Place of Indigenous Peoples in the GTHA.”  IMFG (Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance), University of Toronto, October 2018.
  • True test of reconciliation: Respect the Indigenous right to say no.”  Canadian Dimension 15 May 2018.
  • “Trans Mountain Turning Point” (op. ed.).  Now 37:33 (3-9 May 2018): 12.  Online 26 Apr 2018.
  • TPP dead in the water without First Nation consent.”  (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives) Monitor 23:4 (November/December 2016): 30-31.
  • Report to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the Occasion of the Committee's Eighth and Ninth Periodic Review of Canada [with the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies (CAEFS) and the Canadian Feminist Alliance for International Action (FAFIA).  Geneva: (United Nations) Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, October 2016.
  • “Shining Light on the Dark Places: Addressing Police Racism and Sexualized Violence against Indigenous Women and Girls in the National Inquiry.” Canadian Journal of Women and the Law 28:2 (August 2016): 253-284.
  • “My Tribe, My Heirs and Their Heirs Forever: Living Mi’kmaw Treaties.” Ch. 2 in Living Treaties: Narrating Mi’kmaw Treaty Relations, ed. Marie Battiste, 24-41. Sydney, NS: Cape Breton University Press, 2016.
  • How Canada turned a blind eye to the suicide crises in First Nations: Canada needs a multijurisdictional emergency management team to help Indigenous communities in crisis.”  Policy Options, 13 April 2016.
  • Trudeau’s empty budget promises on the nation-to-nation relationship.”  Policy Options, 23 March 2016.
  • “All About Strong Alliances: First Nations Engagement in the Federal Election.”  In 2015 Canadian Election Analysis: Communication, Strategy, and Democracy, ed. Alex Marland and Thierry Giasson, 60-61.  Vancouver: UBC Press/Samara, 2015.
  • Will We See Real Nation-to-Nation Respect with Trudeau?” (op ed)  Now 36:9 (5-11 November 2015): 14.
  • "A lethal legacy for First Nations." Toronto Star op. ed., 15 October 2015, A23. [Published online as "Tories will leave lethal legacy for First Nations."]
  • “In Defense of Sovereignty.” Review of Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-up Call by Arthur Manuel (Toronto: Between the Lines, 2015).  LRC: Literary Review of Canada 23:8 (October 2015): 14-15.
  • Indigenous Nationhood: Empowering Grassroots Citizens. With a foreword by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair.  Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2015.
  • “Canada: As Long as the Grass Grows and Rivers Flow.”  In A Bold Vision: Women Leaders Imagining Canada’s Future, ed. A Bold Vision Steering Committee (with a Foreword by Roberta Bondar).  Charlottetown: Women’s Network, Inc., 2014.
  • Genocide, Indian Policy and the Legislated Elimination of Indians in Canada.” Aboriginal Policy Studies 3:3 (2014): 27-54.
  • “Native Winter is Here: Harper Better Buy a Warm Coat.” Weetamah, 26 February 2013.
  • “Matnm tel-Mi’kmawi: I’m Fighting for my Mi’kmaw Identity.”Canadian Journal of Native Studies XXXIII:1 (2013): 147-167.
  • Why Idle No More Matters To Us All.” Now Magazine 32:19 (10-17 January 2013).
  • “Justifying Blood Quantum as Sui Generis State Law.” Review of Tribal Constitutionalism: States, Tribes, and the Governance of Membership, by Kirsty Grover (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). Review of Constitutional Studies 17:1 (2012): 135-145.
  • “Harper’s Indigenous Manifesto: Erasing Canada’s Indigenous Communities.” In Best of Rabble 2012. Toronto:, 2012. [selected, by rabble editors, from the blog, Indigenous Nationhood, 09 September 2012.]
  • “Why We Are Idle No More.” Ottawa Citizen, 29 December 2012, B7.
  • “Forcing Our Hearts: Legislative Oppression of Indigenous Women in Canada.” Fuse Magazine 35:3 (Summer 2012): 4-6.
  • First Nations Fiasco.” Precedent Magazine: The New Rules of Law and Style, 14 March 2012.
  • “Unbelievable but Undeniable: Genocide in Canada.” In Best of Rabble 2011. Toronto:, 2011. [selected, by rabble editors, from the blog,Indigenous Nationhood, 05 November 2011.]
  • “When Legislators Make Bad Law: Bill C-3’s Assault on Democracy.” Aboriginal Law Section of the Ontario Bar Association, 02 September 2011.
  • “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.
  • Beyond Blood: Rethinking Indigenous Identity.  Saskatoon: Purich Publishing Ltd., 2011.
  • "Courting Controversy.”  Review of Bad Medicine: A Judge’s Struggle for Justice in a First Nations Community by John Reilly (Victoria: Rocky Mountain Books, 2010). LRC: Literary Review of Canada 19:6 (July-August 2011): 11-12.
  • Review of Beyond the Indian Act: Restoring Aboriginal Property Rights, Tom Flanagan, Christopher Alcantara, and André Le Dressay (Montréal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2010). LRC:  Literary Review of Canada 18:3 (April 2010): 6-7.
  • The Congress of Aboriginal Peoples’ Response to Canada’s Engagement Process Affecting Indian Registration and Band Membership (McIvor v. Canada).  Ottawa: Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, November 2009. 
  • “In My Brother’s Footsteps: Is R. v. Powley the Path to Recognized Aboriginal Identity for Non-Status Indians?”  In J. Magnet and D. Dorey, ed., Aboriginal Rights Litigation, 149.  Markham: LexisNexis, 2003.
  • “An Empty Shell of a Treaty Promise: R. v. Marshall and the Rights of Non-Status Indians” (2000) 23 Dal. L.J. 102.


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