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Celebrated Indigenous law school dean resigns claiming systemic racism

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Angelique EagleWoman, who became first Indigenous dean of a Canadian law school, says efforts to bring meaningful change “thwarted” by Lakehead University.

In 2016, Angelique EagleWoman packed up her life in the United States and moved north to Thunder Bay, where she became the first Indigenous dean of a Canadian law school. Her appointment at Lakehead University’s law faculty was celebrated as “historic” by the Indigenous legal community and felt particularly poignant in the wake of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In Thunder Bay, where race relations are particularly fraught, it was a hopeful moment.

But less than two years into the job, EagleWoman is quitting, alleging systemic racism at Lakehead University. Writing to the law faculty’s Aboriginal Advisory Committee on March 7, she said her efforts have been “thwarted” by the university, which “systematically sought to minimize” her work as dean.

EagleWoman says there is “no truth” to the allegations and she was removed as a respondent to the complaint in March. The case was recently settled by the university, which does not necessarily mean the allegations were substantiated but that a negotiated deal was reached between the parties.

“I have been the victim of systemic discrimination at Lakehead University,” EagleWoman wrote in her March letter. “I have felt constantly challenged by a lack of funding, a hostile environment, and other negative actions directed at me as an Indigenous woman. It has reached a point that I am under such mental and emotional stress that it is untenable for me to stay.”

The rupture between EagleWoman and Lakehead University underscores the entrenched difficulty of making systemic changes, even when everybody shares the same overarching goal. “It’s a tragedy,” said Celina Reitberger, former executive director of the Nishnawbe-Aski Legal Services who worked closely with EagleWoman. “It’s going to leave a huge gap.”

When the law school’s first dean quit in 2015, EagleWoman — a respected Indigenous legal scholar and accomplished lawyer — seemed an ideal replacement.


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