Indigenous Speakers Series

Welcome to the Indigenous Speakers Series homepage where you'll find the full list of speakers. Launched in 2017, the Series highlights the voices of Indigenous artists, writers, activists, scholars and leaders from across Turtle Island. 

The Indigenous Speakers Series is organized by a group of Indigenous and settler faculty, staff, and students from the Waterloo Indigenous Student Centre (WISC), the Office of Indigenous Relations, the Dean of Arts Office, and the departments of History and Communication Arts. The series is co-sponsored by WISC and the Faculty of Arts with the support of donors to the Arts unrestricted giving fund.


Illustration of Chelsea Vowel with a pink and purple background

Chelsea Vowel | February 8, 2024

Chelsea Vowel is Métis from manitow-sâkahikan (Lac Ste. Anne) Alberta, residing in amiskwacîwâskahikan (Edmonton). Parent to six children, she has a BEd, LLB, and MA. She is an Associate Lecturer and Cree language instructor in the Faculty of Native Studies at the University of Alberta. Chelsea's work intersects language, gender, Métis self-determination, futurisms, and resurgence. Author of Indigenous Writes: A Guide to First Nations, Métis & Inuit Issues in Canada, she and her co-host Molly Swain produce the Indigenous feminist sci-fi podcast Métis in Space, and co-founded the Métis in Space Land Trust. Her first collection of short fiction, Buffalo is the New Buffalo, was published in 2022 by Arsenal Pulp Press. Her presentation is entitled âniskôhôcikan, Like a String of Beads: Indigenous Futurisms.

Event details and registration.

illustration of Niigaan Sinclair surrounded by land and animals

Niigaan Sinclair | October 17, 2023

Niigaan Sinclair is Anishinaabe (St. Peter’s/Little Peguis) and a professor at the University of Manitoba, where he holds the Faculty of Arts Professorship in Indigenous Knowledge and Aesthetics and is currently Head of the Department of Indigenous Studies. Niigaan is also an award-winning writer, editor and activist who was recently named to the “Power List” by Maclean’s magazine as one of the most influential individuals in Canada. In 2018, he won Canadian columnist of the year at the National Newspaper Awards for his bi-weekly columns in The Winnipeg Free Press and is a featured member of the Friday "Power Panel" on CBC's Power & Politics. A former secondary school teacher, he won the 2019 Peace Educator of the Year from the Peace and Justice Studies Association based at Georgetown University in Washington, DC. His research includes Indigenous literature, graphic novels, and masculinities. An activist as well as a writer, Niigaan has helped organize Idle No More Winnipeg events and has co-edited three award-winning collections: Centering Anishinaabeg Studies: Understanding the World Through Stories, Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water, and The Winter We Danced: Voices of the Past, the Future, and the Idle No More Movement.

Watch the video recording of Niigaan Sinclair's presentation.

Illustrated portrait of Talena Atfield and Two-Row Wampum in background

Talena Atfield | December 1, 2022

Dr. Talena Atfield is a member of the Kanien’kehá:ka Nation of the Six Nations of the Grand River. She is an Assistant Professor in History at the University of Waterloo and was previously curator of eastern ethnology at the Canadian Museum of History. Focusing on her work with Hodinohso:ni basket weavers, Dr. Atfield speaks about Western notions of the origins of Indigenous artistic practices versus the importance of arts and creation within the community. Grounded in community-based knowledge sharing and creation, she works with tangible and intangible Indigenous knowledges held in museums, galleries, and community centres, with a special focus on Hodinohso:ni material culture. Employing faces, or seven generations teachings, to the study of Indigenous cultures held in collections, Dr. Atfield critically examines the information shared with past researchers and works with community scholars and knowledge keepers to find ways to reintegrate and reinvigorate this information into community practice. She is an advisory board member of The Longhouse Labs research-creation lab here at Waterloo.

Watch the video of Talena Atfield's presentation and discussion.

Illustration of Janie Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan

Jani Lauzon and Kaitlyn Riordan | September 26, 2022

Jani Lauzon, director and playwright, and Kaitlyn Riordan, playwright, co-created the play 1939 that is part of the Stratford Festival's 2022 season.  Jani Lauzon is a director and multidisciplinary performer of Métis ancestry.  Kaitlyn Riordan is a settler of Irish and French descent who lives in Tkaronto and is a four-time Dora nominated actress and a playwright. They will speak about their unique process of engaging community and support from Elders and Knowledge Keepers, with a lens to the work of Indigenous artists and activists over the last 100 years, used to develop 1939. Set at a fictional Residential School in Northern Ontario, the co-playwrights worked cross-culturally to explore the use of Shakespeare as a tool of colonization and what happens when the students subvert that intention and bring their cultures and lived experiences to the task of putting on a play.

Watch the video of their conversation with Dr. Sorouja Moll.

Lenore Keeshig | March 31, 2022

Lenore Keeshig, a citizen of the Chippewas of Nawash Unceded First Nation, is a traditional storyteller, poet and author, living at Neyaashiinigmiing on the Saugeen (Bruce) Peninsula. She works as a naturalist, providing education programs about the natural and cultural history of the Saugeen/Bruce Peninsula and the Great Lakes. Lenore’s poetry has appeared in a number of anthologies. She has produced three children’s books: Bird Talk (1991), Emma and the Trees (1996), and The Truth About Nibbles (2005) co-authored with her husband, David McLaren. She is the recipient of the Living the Dream Book Award(1993) and an Author’s Award (1988).

Watch the video of Lenore Keeshig's presentation.

Illustration of Jean Teillet

Jean Teillet | December 2, 2021

Jean Teillet is Senior Counsel with Pape Salter Teillet LLP who has long been engaged in negotiations and litigation with provincial and federal governments concerning Métis and First Nation land rights, harvesting rights and self-government. Among her significant Indigenous rights cases, she served as lead counsel for the landmark case R. v. Powley in which the Supreme Court of Canada affirmed constitutional protection of Métis harvesting rights. 

Jean holds numerous awards and honours, including the Governor General’s Meritorious Service Cross for service to Canada, the Indigenous Peoples’ Council award by the Indigenous Bar Association, a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, and the Law Society of Upper Canada’s first ever Lincoln Alexander Award for community service. She holds three honorary doctorates.

Jean is the great grandniece of Louis Riel and recently published The North-West is Our Mother: The Story of Louis Riel’s People, the Métis Nation, which was listed as one of the Globe & Mail’s top 100 books of 2019.

Watch the video of Jean Teillet's presentation.

Logan MacDonald | April 8, 2021

Logan MacDonald is a visual artist of mixed European and Mi’kmaq ancestry, belonging to the Elmastukwek people of Ktaqmkuk territory (Bay of Islands, Newfoundland). His interdisciplinary practice explores notions of belonging in contexts of cultural erasure, queer and disability experiences. MacDonald has been featured as a solo artist exhibiting in competitive and critically engaged galleries throughout Canada, including The Lay of Land project at Eastern Edge (2017), Ace Art Inc. (2018), and Grenfell Art Gallery, and the exhibition Bæōdut / Hidden Histories at the Newfoundland provincial museum The Rooms (2019). 

He was longlisted for the 2019 Sobey Art Award, from which he was awarded a six-month artist residency at the Künstlerhaus Benthanien in Berlin. MacDonald has taught at three post-secondary institutions and joined the Department of Fine Arts at Waterloo in 2019. In 2020, he was named a CRC in Indigenous Art.

Watch the video of Logan MacDonald's presentation.

Dr. Evan Adams | March 4, 2021

Evan Tlesla II Adams is a Coast Salish actor and physician from the Tla’amin First Nation near Powell River, BC, Canada. Evan stars as Thomas Builds-The-Fire in Miramax’s 1998 film Smoke Signals, for which he won Best Actor awards from the American Indian Film Festival, and from First Americans in the Arts, as well as a 1999 Independent Spirit Award for ‘Best Debut Performance’. He won a 2011 Gemini Award for co-hosting the National Aboriginal Achievement Awards along with Adam Beach.

Aside from his career in the arts, Dr. Adams completed a MD from the University of Calgary in 2002, and a residency in the Aboriginal Family Practice program at St. Paul's Hospital in Vancouver, BC. Dr. Adams has a Master of Public Health (2009) from Johns Hopkins University. He was the first-ever Aboriginal Health Physician Advisor in the Office of the Provincial Health Officer, BC Ministry of Health (2007-2012). He was the Deputy Provincial Health Officer for the province of BC from 2012 to 2014. He is currently the Chief Medical Officer of the First Nations Health Authority.

Watch the video of Evan Adams' presentation.

Illustratraion of Jean Becker

Jean Becker | January, 29, 2020

Jean Becker is the University of Waterloo's Associate Vice President of Indigenous Relations. Jean is Inuk and a member of the Nunatsiavut Territory of Labrador. She holds a Master’s degree in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of Guelph and is known for her work locally, provincially, and nationally, most recently being the Senior Advisor for Indigenous Initiatives at Wilfrid Laurier University. The foundations of Jean's career are rooted in the Waterloo region, where she has been living and working with diverse Indigenous communities for over forty years.

As the Associate Vice-President, Indigenous Relations, Jean provides strategic leadership to articulate the University of Waterloo-specific response to the Truth and Reconciliation Calls to Action and identifies systemic and systematic changes that move beyond the Calls to Action by creating a long-term vision of decolonization and indigenization for the university.

Watch the video of Jean Becker's presentation.

Illustration of David A. Robertson

David A. Robertson | March 13, 2019

David Alexander Robertson is the bestselling author of children’s books, graphic novels, and novels whose works educate and entertain readers about Indigenous Peoples, reflecting their cultures, histories, communities, as well as illuminating many contemporary issues. His books include When We Were Alone (Governor General’s Literary Award winner, McNally Robinson Best Book for Young People winner, TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award finalist), Will I See? (Manuela Dias Book Design and Illustration Award, Graphic Novel Category), and the YA novel Strangers (Michael Van Rooy Award for Genre Fiction, Best Indigenous Writer at the High Plains Book Awards). David is a member of Norway House Cree Nation. He lives in Winnipeg. Visit David A. Robertson's website.

Watch the video of David Robertson's presentation.

An illustration of musician Tomson Highway against a flowered orange background

Songs in the Key of Cree | November 19, 2019

Tomson Highway's Songs in the Key of Cree is a collection of Cree and English songs written by one of Canada’s most renowned authors. Part of a larger Indigenous language revitalization project, this integrated performance-speaker event presents the captivating vocalist Patricia Cano, guitarist Kevin Barrett, saxophonist Marcus Ali, and fiddler Nathan Halcrow, joined by artist Emma Rain Smith and historian Susan Roy.

This delightful compilation of songs from Tomson’s musicals includes Rose, The Incredible Adventures of Mary Jane Mosquito; The (Post) Mistress and the new Cree-language play, Lynx Lamour goes to Nashville.

Read about the Songs in the Key of Cree project.

Jesse Thistle | September 18, 2019

Jesse Thistle is a Métis-Cree-Scot from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, whose bestselling memoir, From the Ashes (Simon and Schuster Canada), chronicles his life on the streets and how he overcame trauma and addiction to discover the truth about who he is. His scholarship is focused on intergenerational and historic trauma of the Métis people, and also reflects on his own past struggles with homelessness. Jesse is widely recognized in the scholarly community and beyond. He holds an MA in History from Waterloo and is an Assistant Professor of Métis Studies at York University. Visit Jesse Thistle's website.

Watch the video of Jesse Thistle's presentation.

Lee Maracle with Bill Coleman | October 3, 2018

The late Lee Maracle was a member of the Sto:Loh Nation; grandmother of four and mother of four who was born in North Vancouver, BC. Her works include the novels, Ravensong, Bobbi Lee, and Sundogs; short story collection, Sojourner’s Truth; poetry collection, Bentbox; and non-fiction work I Am Woman. She was a Co-editor of My Home As I Remember and Telling It: Women and Language Across Cultures, editor of a number of poetry works, Gatherings journals and has been published in dozens of anthologies in Canada and the U.S. An award winning author and teacher, she was a mentor for Indigenous students at University of Toronto where she taught Indigenous studies. Ms. Maracle acted as the Traditional Cultural Director for the Indigenous Theatre School and also functions as the schools part-time cultural instructor. 

Bill Coleman is a choreographer and performer whose work has transcended traditional theatrical settings to include mountain tops, rainforests, prairies and urban construction sites. 

Watch the video of Lee Maracle's and Bill Coleman's presentation.

Susan Hill | February 13, 2018

Professor Susan M. Hill, is the author of The Clay We Are Made Of. If we want to understand Haudenosaunee (Six Nations) history, we need to consider the history of Haudenosaunee land. For countless generations prior to European contact, land and territory informed Haudenosaunee thought and philosophy, and was a primary determinant of Haudenosaunee identity. Professor Susan Hill is particularly interested in Haudenosaunee knowledge and thought, seeking to make sense of contemporary lives through an examination of how people got to where they are now, both literally and figuratively. She is Associate Professor of History, and Director of the First Nations Studies Program at Western University. She holds a PhD in Native Studies from Trent University, MA in American Studies from SUNY-Buffalo, BA in history from the University of Michigan, and completed language immersion programs through Onkwawanna Kentyohkwa (Kanyen’keha/Mohawk) and Grand River Employment & Training (Gayagohono/Cayuga).

Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm | January 18, 2018

Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm is an Anishinaabe writer, poet, editor and the founder and managing editor of Kegedonce Press, an Indigenous publisher based in the territory of her people, the Chippewas of Nawash First Nation, Saugeen Ojibway Nation in southwestern Ontario. Her recent book, The Stone Collection, received a starred review from Publishers Weekly and was a finalist for a Sarton Literary Award. She wrote the Globe & Mail opinion piece, The cultural appropriation debate is over. It’s time for action.

Watch the video of Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm's presentation.

Syliva McAdam | March 29, 2017

Sylvia McAdam (Saysewahum) is a citizen of the nêhiyaw Nation, co-founder of the Idle No More movement, and author of Nationhood Interrupted: Reviatlizing nêhiyaw Legal Systems. She is a recipient of numerous awards and remains active in the global grassroots Indigenous-led resistance. Traditionally and through custom, nêhiyaw (Cree) laws are shared and passed down through the generations in the oral tradition, utilizing stories, songs, ceremonies, lands, waters, animals, land markings and other sacred rites. The loss of the languages, customs, and traditions of Indigenous peoples as a direct result of colonization has necessitated this departure from the oral tradition to record the physical laws of the nêhiyaw, for the spiritual laws can never be written down. 

Phil Monture | February 17, 2017

Phil Monture is Mohawk from the Six Nations of the Grand River. From 1975 to July 2002 he was he Director of the Land Claims Research Office at the Six Nations of the Grand River. As the Director of the Land Claims Research Office, Phil developed a long term research program and supervised the research for the Six Nations of the Grand River as it relates to lands, which are no longer used for its benefit and for which no Crown letters patent have been issued or legal surrender obtained under prevailing legislation.

In Global Solutions for the Six Nations of the Grand River, Phil tells the story of his community and the Haldimand Treaty of 1784. The treaty covers lands for six miles on each side of the Grand River from Lake Erie to its source, including the University of Waterloo's campus. Monture, who has been researching this history for almost 40 years, provides a historical overview of various land transactions and will discuss current Six Nations efforts in Canada and at the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples to have the their land claim resolved.