Leaders of Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) and Kitchenumaykoosib Inninuwug (KI) are calling on Lakehead University to rescind the appointment of provincial Justice George Patrick Smith, who sentenced First Nations leaders to prison for protecting their lands, as interim dean of the university’s embattled law school.
“It is an insult for Justice Smith to be appointed to lead an academic institution that prides itself on advancing Indigenous interests, and I call on Lakehead University to immediately rescind this decision,” said Deputy Grand Chief Derek Fox. “I question the university’s claims of his expertise in Indigenous legal issues when he does not recognize First Nations jurisdiction over our lands. The university should have accepted the recommendations of the Aboriginal Advisory Committee delivered last week, which specially requested that no positions at the law school be filled without input from Indigenous partners.”
Justice Smith sentenced Chief Morris and five members of the Kitchenumaykoosib Inninuwug Council to prison in 2008 during the community’s lengthy fight to protect their traditional territory from mining activity. Their imprisonment made national headlines, and received tremendous support from First Nations leaders, environmental organizations and human rights advocates to ‘Free the KI6’.
“I do not agree with the recognition of Justice George Patrick Smith as the interim dean. When we look inside our hearts and minds we believe that this is our land. I question how Justice Smith can be an expert in Indigenous law when he doesn’t understand where we came from,” said Kitchenumaykoosib Inninuwug Chief Donny Morris.
The appointment of the interim dean comes just weeks after the resignation of Angelique EagleWoman, the first female Indigenous dean of a Canadian Law School, who resigned last month citing issues of systemic racism within the University.