Sheryl Lightfoot

Senior Advisor to the President on Indigenous Affairs
Canada Research Chair in Global Indigenous Rights and Politics
Associate Professor, First Nations and Indigenous Studies and Political Science


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Canada Research Chair

Sheryl Lightfoot is Anishinaabe, a citizen of the Lake Superior Band of Ojibwe, enrolled at the Keweenaw Bay Community. She is currently Vice Chair and North American Member on the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (EMRIP). She is Canada Research Chair in Global Indigenous Rights and Politics, and Associate Professor in Political Science and the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs as well as a faculty associate in the Institute for Critical Indigenous Studies. She is also Senior Advisor to the President on Indigenous Affairs and is leading the implementation of the 2020 Indigenous Strategic Plan across UBC and directs UBC’s Office of Indigenous Strategic Initiatives. She is currently serving as President of the Native American and Indigenous Studies Association (NAISA).

As one of the world’s experts in global Indigenous politics, Sheryl’s research specializes in complex questions of Indigenous peoples’ rights and how those rights are being claimed and negotiated. Her work explores both practical and theoretical aspects of implementation of Indigenous rights globally as well as in domestic contexts. She is the author of Global Indigenous Politics: A Subtle Revolution as well as numerous journal articles and book chapters.

She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Minnesota as well as a master’s degree from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, University of Minnesota. Prior to her academic career, she had fifteen years’ volunteer and contract experience with a number of American Indian tribes and community-based organizations in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, including nine years as Chair of the Board of the American Indian Policy Center, a research and advocacy group.

As a member of the UN Expert Mechanism Sheryl provides the Human Rights Council with expertise and advice on the implementation of the rights of Indigenous Peoples. The Mechanism also assists Member States in achieving the goals of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She is the first Indigenous woman from Canada to be appointed to this prestigious position.

Sheryl’s research interests include global Indigenous peoples’ politics, Indigenous political theory, Indigenous diplomacy, Indigenous social movements, and critical international relations theory.

Her book, Global Indigenous Politics: A Subtle Revolution, is forthcoming in 2016 by Routledge Press. The book is based upon her PhD dissertation, which won the 2010 Best Dissertation Award in the Race, Ethnicity and Politics section of the American Political Science Association.

Sheryl is currently engaged in a SSHRC funded research project, “The Politics of State Apologies to Indigenous Peoples. She is conducting a comparative case study analysis of state apologies to Indigenous peoples in several countries, including Canada, the United States, Norway and New Zealand. Her study, which commenced in 2013, involves qualitative research on the evolution of apology and its after effects. Questions include: When and how are apologies issued from states to Indigenous peoples? What is their political purpose? Do such apologies represent a response by states to demands from Indigenous peoples, or are they a top-down, state-driven initiative? How do Indigenous leaders and activists view official state apologies and what are the gaps of understanding between them? What other policies (compensation or policy shifts) should accompany official state apologies in order to enhance Indigenous-state reconciliation?

Sheryl’s ongoing streams of research focus on how implementation of Indigenous peoples’ rights reshapes Indigenous-state relationships and shifts understandings of human rights, decolonization, equality, sovereignty and self-determination on the global level. Major projects include an interrogation of the principle of self-determination in Indigenous contexts and an examination of the politics of Indigenous rights movements vis-à-vis the implementation of Indigenous rights both domestically and on the global level.

Selected Publications
The Politics of Indigenous Apologies. Forthcoming.

Global Indigenous Politics: A Subtle Revolution. Routledge (UK), 2016.

“Implementing the UN Declaration: The View from Canada.” Invited chapter in The Declaration and Indigenous Rights in Aotearoa New Zealand. Edited by Selwyn Katene, Massey University Press, New Zealand.

“Legislative Frameworks for Implementing the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.” Policy brief in a collection by the Centre for International Governance Innovation.

“Treaty Relations between Indigenous Peoples: Advancing Global Understandings of Self-Determination.” New Diversities Special Issue “Indigenous Politics of Resistance: From Erasure to Recognition,” 19 (2017): 25-40. Co-authored with David MacDonald.

“A Promise Too Far?: The Justin Trudeau Government and Indigenous Rights” in Canada Among Nations, eds. Norman Hillmer and Phillipe Lagasse (Palgrave MacMillan, 2018) 165-186.

“Adopting and Implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples: Canada’s Existential Crisis” in Surviving Canada: Indigenous Peoples Celebrate 150 Years of Betrayal, edited by Kiera L. Ladner and Myra Tait (Winnipeg, MB: ARP, 2017) 440-459.

“Revealing, Reporting and Reflecting: Indigenous Studies Research as Praxis in Reconciliation Projects” in Sources and Methods in Indigenous Studies, edited by Chris Andersen and Jean O’Brien. (Oxfordshire, UK: Routledge, 2016) 297-304.

“Indigenous Mobilisation and Activism in the UN System,” in Routledge Handbook of Indigenous Peoples’ Rights, edited by Damien Short and Corinne Lennox, 2016.

“Settler State Apologies to Indigenous Peoples: A Normative Framework and Comparative Assessment.” Native American and Indigenous Studies 2 (2015): 15-39.

“Marge Anderson: Restoring the Treaty Rights of the Mille Lacs Band,” in “Our Cause Will Ultimately Triumph” Profiles in American Indian Sovereignty, ed. Tim Alan Garrison (Durham, NC: Carolina Academic Press, 2014), 143-156.

“Selective Endorsement without Intent to Implement: Indigenous Rights and the Anglosphere.” The International Journal of Human Rights 16 (2012): 100-122.

“Emerging Indigenous Rights Norms and ‘Over-Compliance’ in New Zealand and Canada.” Political Science 62 (2010): 84-104.

“Indigenous Rights in International Politics: The Case of ‘Over-Compliant’ Liberal States.” Alternatives: Global, Local, Political 33 (2008): 83-104.

“Oaths of Office in Tribal Constitutions: Swearing Allegiance, but to Whom?” American Indian Quarterly 32 (2008): 389-41. Co-authored with David E. Wilkins.