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McGill Indigenous Studies Program hosts criminologist Lisa Monchalin

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On Feb. 24, the McGill Indigenous Studies Program hosted Lisa Monchalin, criminology professor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University and the first indigenous woman in Canada to receive a PhD in criminology, for the presentation of her new book The Colonial Problem: An Indigenous Perspective on Crime and Injustice in Canada.

“As a criminologist with an indigenous justice lense, I define injustice towards Indigenous People as a crime,” Monchalin said. “I don’t rely on the state definition of what crime is because I believe that the Canadian state itself has been built on crime [….] Very often, I get asked by students, ‘Why are indigenous people so overrepresented in crime?’ In reality, they are three times more likely to be victims of crimes.” 

In addition to describing the content of her book, Monchalin also relayed her personal journey as an indigenous woman. Monchalin said she struggled in her youth to assert her identity against the prejudice of others.

“Being native in our family was always a source of shame,” Monchalin said. “This book is an act of resurgence against that shame.”

During her career, Monchalin had to overcome academic obstacles to make her voice heard. While lecturing, she was often challenged by her students and was accused of teaching propaganda.

“Once, I even had to invite a non-native colleague as a guest speaker to talk about abuses in Residential Schools because my students wouldn’t believe me,” Monchalin said.

Monchalin seeks to legitimize and assert the indigenous perspective in criminology by unveiling the colonial mechanisms embedded in the Canadian judicial system. Specifically, Monchalin criticized authorities’ lack of response to incidents involving indigenous Peoples.

“In 2014, the RCMP documented about 1,200 cases of missing or murdered native women between 1980 and 2012,” Monchalin said. “[….] It was only in 2015 that the call for a National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls was finally answered.”

Despite recent improvements made by the Liberal government, such as the creation of the National Council for Reconciliation to implement the Truth and Reconciliation Committee (TRC) 2015 Final Report’s recommendations, Monchalin is not optimistic about future change.

“This is still a colonial government and I don’t really think that working within this system is going to do much,” Monchalin said.

Indigenous Studies Program Chair and Assistant Professor Allan Downey in the McGill Department of History assigned Monchalin’s book in his Interdisciplinary Seminar in Indigenous Studies INDG 401 and praised academics, like Monchalin, for making a difference in the fight for recognition.

“Indigenous people have been fighting for [the TRC’s goals for] many years and now it has started to get some public acknowledgment,” Downey said. “[…. Many] natives, like […] Monchalin, have done some incredible improvements through their activism, their scholarship, [and] their art.”

While McGill launched the Indigenous Studies Program in January 2015, Hanna Jevne, U4 Arts and a student in Downey’s seminar, believes there is still room for improvement. Jevne argued that the University should offer more options for indigenous studies.

“Unfortunately, at McGill there is only a minor available for indigenous studies,” Jevne said. “[Universities in Western] Canada [have] way more programs than McGill does.”

According to Downey, in its short existence, the Indigenous Studies Program  has already seen a positive response from students and the university.

“Students called the administration, asking them to establish a program that had been established throughout the country since the 1960s and 1970s,” Downey said. “McGill was very late to it [….But since its opening, the program has] really had some great success, a lot of students were interested in it and the administration started to support it.”

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