I was born in Ottawa and now live in Toronto with photographer Mark Fawcett.
I’ve been a freelance writer and community organizer for much of my life, with stints raising sheep with my parents, teaching in Swaziland, and, from 2002 to 2011, studying and teaching at the University of Toronto. Since 2012, I have taught Indigenous history at York University and developed a bilingual Canadian Studies course called Decolonizing Canada/Décoloniser le Canada, at Glendon College, York’s bilingual campus. Last year I also co-developed and co-taught a course on the Sociology of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at the University of Toronto Scarborough campus with residential school survivors and staff of the Toronto Council Fire Native Cultural Centre.
For the past thirty years I’ve worked in various ways to support Indigenous/non-Indigenous decolonization in Canada. I’ve started by asking myself these questions: Who am I? Where am I? How did I come to live here? What are my responsibilities? To begin to answer those questions I spent seven years writing Distant Relations: How My Ancestors Colonized North America, which was published by McClelland & Stewart in 2000 and shortlisted for the 2000 Shaughnessy Cohen Prize for Political Writing. Then I wanted to broaden my knowledge, so did a PhD in history at the University of Toronto, focusing on Indigenous history in Canada and comparatively with the US, New Zealand and Australia. My 2010 dissertation, “‘Toronto Has No History!’ Indigeneity, Settler Colonialism and Historical Memory in Canada’s Largest City,” was an attempt to challenge settler amnesia and dominant historical paradigms.
My academic work has always been complemented and informed by work in the community focused on relationship-building and public education, notably my nine years with First Story Toronto, and more recently, my ongoing work with Jumblies Theatre. I co-wrote, with Ange Loft, the Talking Treaties Spectacle, a Jumblies Theatre community arts performance focused on Toronto area treaties and their contemporary significance, first performed at Fort York as part of the Indigenous Arts Festival in June 2017 and remounted October 4-7, 2018.
Over the past few years I have also returned to my roots as a writer and improvisational contemporary dancer. Since 2012, I have performed as a dancer with Sol Express, an all abilities theatre ensemble based at l’Arche, in Toronto. Most recently, I co-created and performed in Birds Make Me Think About Freedom, a new theatre piece about the experiences of the survivors of Ontario institutions for people with intellectual disabilities, created with Sol Express and its director Cheryl Zinyk. Birds was performed at the Toronto Fringe Festival in July 2018 and received positive reviews and a Patron’s Pick Award. We will be remounting the show in 2019 and taking it on tour.
A memoir about my experience as a sibling of a child with Down Syndrome who was institutionalized — my late sister Martha was a resident at the Rideau Regional Centre at Smiths Falls, Ontario, from 1960 to 1973 — will be published by UBC Press in 2019.
I have a number of other projects on the go!
I am blessed with two children, and identify as queer and non-binary.