Governor General Gold Medalist: Dr. Eva Jewell

October 30, 2019
By: 
Cindy MacDougall
Dr. Eva Jewell
“The community at large still holds our Anishinaabe values close, something that the Indian Act and residential schools tried — and failed — to pry from us.”

Dr. Eva Jewell, a Doctor of Social Sciences graduate and Anishinaabe scholar from Deshkan Ziibiing in southwestern Ontario, will receive this year’s Governor General’s Gold Medal.

The gold medal is awarded to the graduate student with the most outstanding dissertation, thesis or graduate project of the year. 

Jewell was selected for her dissertation, Gimaadaasamin, we are accounting for the people: Support for customary governance in Deshkan Ziibiing. Her work explored the attitudes of members of Deshkan Ziibiing towards replacing the Indian Act band structure with the Nation’s customary forms of governance, dodemiwan (clan system).

Jewell says the relationship between Deshkan Ziibiing and Canada is still framed by the Indian Act, an instrument of colonialism, which imposed a municipal style of governance on First Nations and removed original governance structures.

“After the cultural genocide of residential schools, one of which was located in Deshkan Ziibiing, generations of our people no longer prioritized the knowledge required to embody these structures,” Jewell says. “In the past few decades, our community has been going through a cultural and political resurgence: we are reclaiming our language and ways of knowing. I wanted to support this movement with my dissertation research.”

Jewell worked with Deshkan Ziibiing’s governance committee to explore the support among the Nation’s membership for a return to dodemiwan as a governance model and the factors that contribute to members’ support for or doubts about such a return. Jewell also studied artistic and other expressions of what it means to practice dodemiwan, collected from a 2016 Clan Gathering held at Deshkan Ziibiing.

“I want to be clear about what this research is not: it is not an exercise in developing the actual dodemiwan system,” Jewell writes in her dissertation. “That task is not mine and must be based in a community-led process without the academy. That is a task that must occur in our own spaces in the presence of ceremony.

“This research was conducted as an offering to those who work with members of our community who may have doubts of its viability or support.”

Part of the research Jewell conducted included a survey of the Nation’s membership, to which a strong majority of respondents supported a return to dodemiwan.

“The most significant predictor of support for an original governance system was if an individual reported that they had strong Anishinaabe values and identity,” Jewell says.

The research, both data and more qualitative information, supported the governance committee’s efforts, she says, including ratifying the Nation’s Chi-Inaakonigewin, or written constitution.

“It gave us certainty that the community at large still holds our Anishinaabe values close, something that the Indian Act and residential schools tried — and failed — to pry from us.”

Jewell, who crossed the convocation stage this past spring, was previously awarded a Pre-Doctoral Fellowship in American Indian and Indigenous Studies from Michigan State University in support of her dissertation research.

She is now assistant professor of Indigenous feminisms in sociology at Ryerson University. She is also an associate fellow with Yellowhead Institute, a First Nations-led think tank committed to Indigenous self-determination.

“I chose the Royal Roads Doctor of Social Sciences specifically so I could continue to focus on my community connection and meaningful work in my First Nation,” she says. “My current work is possible because of my continued dedication to community work and connection — which of course, was much easier in the DSocSci blended model.”

Receiving the Governor General’s Gold Medal, Jewell says, was an honour and “pleasant surprise.”

“The dissertation in itself was such a meaningful process for me, that to complete it and hand over the results to my Nation to confirm and embolden our resurgence efforts was accomplishment enough,” she says. “So to be recognized externally for this labour of love is just remarkable.”