I was born in Montreal and educated at McGill (B.A., Hons. English) and at University College Dublin, National University of Ireland (M.A. , Ph.D., Irish Studies). I’ve worked in several fields, beginning with Irish studies and a focus on James Joyce and semiotics, then moving into modern Canadian literature and poststructuralist theory, and then into socio-legal perspectives on expressive freedoms and discursive regulation in Canada. When I began to study Indigenous title and rights cases, my early interests in Irish oral history and settler colonial studies became a foundation for a multidisciplinary approach to land and narrative in Indigenous contexts. Invited by Chief Roger William (Xeni Gwet’in) to collaborate on a book on the Tsilhqot’in title case, I have been involved in community-based oral history work since 2013 in Xeni. Both oral history and case analysis are informed by the teachings shared with me by the Elders, Chief and community. Described as a crosscultural translator by Chief William, I am honoured to be present for and to be called to represent in print the community’s narrative of its history and the coming to be of the title case with its victory in the Supreme Court of Canada in June 2014 and its ongoing impact on the future of Xeni and of all Tsilhqot’in people.
My recent work has also focused on “oral tradition” as legal fiction in the Tsilhqot’in case; on the concept of “time immemorial” in Calder, Van der Peet, and Tsilhqot’in; and on spatial deixis in Tsilhqot’in testimony, part of a larger project on the discursive production of “oral history,” “oral tradition,” and semantic mapping strategies in the Tsilhqot’in case. The Oral History of the Tsilhqot’in Title Case is currently in the final stages of production. Future projects include the development of the Tsilhqot’in Title Case Website, a community-based website focused on the many dimensions of Tsilhqot’in law, knowledge and culture which characterize the Plaintiff’s case, expressed in the context of their enduring power and importance for Tsilhqot’in people. I’m grateful to all of the Tsilhqot’ins who have shared knowledge, wisdom and hospitality with me and to the people of Xeni for the privilege of working in your community. Sechanalyagh!
Professor of English, Faculty Associate of the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies, Faculty Associate of the Institute for Gender, Race, Sexuality, and Social Justice, member of the Law and Society Program, associated with the Faculty of Education’s Centre for Cross-Faculty Inquiry (CCFI) and with the Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program (ISGP), former Chair of the Program in Comparative Literature (1985-90), University of British Columbia.
Killam Teaching Prize, University of British Columbia, 2006.
The second anniversary of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in the Tsilhqot’in Title Case was on June 26th, 2016. Watch the uncut footage of the Tsilhqot’in Chiefs’ press conference on June 26th, 2014 here.