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'Education for action' is what drives social justice activist Pamela Palmater

Last Updated Jun 12, 2020 at 1:19 pm EDT

Lawyer, professor, author, and social justice activist Dr. Pamela Palmater. Photo credit: Michelle Girouard

June is National Indigenous History Month. It is a time for all Canadians — Indigenous, non-Indigenous and newcomers — to reflect upon and learn the history, sacrifices, cultures, contributions, and strength of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people. Throughout the month of June, CityNews will profile Indigenous people, and share their stories and voices, so that we can celebrate the difference they have made in their communities and to our country.


June 12: Today, we celebrate Dr. Pamela Palmater

Dr. Pamela Palmater — a Mi’kmaw lawyer, professor, author, and social justice activist from Eel River Bar First Nation in New Brunswick — grew up in an activist family.

“I basically grew up attend community meetings, volunteering for native organizations and participating in rallies and protests,” she said.

When Palmater had two boys of her own, she raised them the same way. While raising her children as a single mother, Palmater worked hard to obtain four university degrees — one a doctorate in law. She has been a practising lawyer for more than 20 years and is currently a professor and the Chair in Indigenous Governance at Ryerson University in Toronto.

For more than 30 years, Palmater has been studying, volunteering and working on a wide range of social, political and legal issues impacting First Nations, such as poverty, housing, child and family services, treaty rights, as well as education and legislation. Palmater was one of the faces and voices, seen and heard, during the Idle No More movement, which called on all people to join in a peaceful resolution, to honour Indigenous sovereignty and to protect Mother Earth.

“My public education efforts on Indigenous issues are based on the concept of education for action.”

Palmater is often asked to provide her expertise at committee meetings on Parliament Hill and at the United Nations that delve into policies and laws that impact Indigenous people.

When using her voice to educate, Palmater makes it easy for others to understand the heart of the issue she is speaking out.

“My public education efforts on Indigenous issues are based on the concept of education for action. Widely accessible education on Indigenous issues is about arming the public with the facts and analysis they need to see their role in ending the injustices. Public pressure can be a powerful tool in moving otherwise immovable governments stuck in the status quo,” she said.

Palmater is now working on studying racism in policing, as well as abuse and sexualized violence against Indigenous women and girls and how it played a role in what followed: murder, missing cases, human trafficking, and exploitation.

“Every social justice movement in Canada lead by Black and Indigenous peoples have led up to this moment in time.”

During a time when the racism conversation is being had in both Canada and the United States, Palmater explains how we can be real, authentic allies to one another: “Every social justice movement in Canada lead by Black and Indigenous peoples have led up to this moment in time.

“Canadians and Americans have now seen with their own eyes a small sliver of the racialized violence we have experienced by governments, police and society for generations. Following the lead of Black and Indigenous peoples, Canadians and Americans have the numbers, the wealth, the power and the influence to force the radical change that is needed to end racism, violence and injustice in government and society.”

Click here to learn more about Pam and educating the resistance.