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Prof. Ronald Niezen




Canada Research Chair in the Comparative Study of Indigenous Rights and Identity,

Associate Professor,

Department of Anthropology,
McGill University,
Stephen Leacock Building,
855 Sherbrooke Street West,
Canada, H3A 2T7.

Tel: (514) 398-4298
Fax: (514) 398-7476
E-mail: ronald [dot] niezen [at] mcgill [dot] ca


University of Cambridge, England. Phd., Social Anthropology.

University of Cambridge, England. M.Phil., Social Anthropology.

University of British Columbia. B.A. (Honours), Anthropology (Summa Cum Laude).

Camosun College (Victoria, Canada). Associate of Arts Diploma.

Research Interests

Indigenous peoples and human rights

History of anthropology/social theory

Transnational networks and globalization

Native peoples and cultures of the United States and Canada

Social change in Africa

Political/legal anthropology

Grants and Awards

Canada Foundation for Innovation, Infrastructure Fund.

Nominee, Alexander von Humboldt Senior Fellowship, Institut für Europäische Ethnologie, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Research Scholar, Department of History, University of Winnipeg.

Milton Fund Research Grant, Harvard Medical School.

Pedagogical Innovation Grant, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, Harvard University.

Clark Fund Research Grant, Harvard University.

Milton Fund Small Grant, Harvard Medical School.

IODE National Chapter of Canada, War Memorial Scholarship.

Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research, Grant-in-Aid.

Richards Fund Studentship, Dept. of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge.

William Wyse Studentship in Social Anthropology, Trinity College, Cambridge.

Queen Elizabeth II British Columbia Centennial Scholarship.

Norman A.M. MacMillan Regional College Scholarship.



Phd. (1987) University of Cambridge.
Diverse Styles of Islamic Reform among the Songhay of Eastern Mali. Supervisors: Jack Goody (1983-84, until retirement) and Ernest Gellner (1984-87).

M.Phil. (1983) University of Cambridge.
Literacy and Prophetism: A Comparative Study of the Sacred Value of Writing. Supervisor: Malcom Ruel.

B.A. Honours (1981) University of British Columbia.
Theoretical Considerations of Millenarianism and Totalitarianism. Supervisor: Kenelm Burridge.



French; German; Spanish (reading); Cree, “N” dialect (elementary speaking and syllabic literacy); Arabic (intro to Modern Standard).



November 2003; April 2004 – June 2004.
Institute für Europäische Ethnologie, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.
Library-based research on comparative anthropology and pluralism.

December 2000 – June 2001.
Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University.
Research on human rights and the rise of indigenous identity, including two brief visits to Sami territory in northern Finland.

July, 1998 - June, 2000.
Cross Lake, Manitoba, Canada.
Ethnographic research on aboriginal self-government and indigenous activism in a Cree community.

June -July, 1996.
Pikangicum, Wunnumin Lake, Moose Factory, Moosonee, Mattagami and Wahgoshig, Ontario, Canada.
Research on local perceptions of mental health crises in Cree and Ojibwa communities of the Nishnawbe-Aski Nation.

October, 1995; January, 1995; August-September, 1994; June-August, 1993; July-September, 1992; April, 1992.
Abitibi, Québec, Canada.
Research on perceptions of healing traditions and medical bureaucracy among the James Bay Cree.

November-December, 1987.
Abitibi, Québec, Canada.
Research on the activities and needs of the social service branch of the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.

June, 1984-April, 1985.
Republic of Mali, West Africa.
Doctoral dissertation research on Arabic education and Islamic Reform in Songhay Society.


Employment and Affiliations

May 2005 – present.
Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, McGill University.

Aug 2004 – May 2005.
Visiting Professor. Department of Anthropology, Mcgill University.

Nov 2003 – June 2004.
Guest Researcher, Institut für Europäische Ethnologie, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Germany.

Jan 2001 - June 2003.
Visiting Senior Researcher, Turku Law School and the Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University, Turku/Åbo, Finland.

July 1998 - June 2000.
Researcher; Health Consultant; Education Consultant, Pimicikamak Cree Nation, Manitoba.

July 1997 - June 1998.
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University.

July 1994 - June 1997.
Associate Professor of Anthropology and of Social Studies, Harvard University.

July 1989 - June 1994.
Assistant Professor of Anthropology and of Social Studies, Harvard University.

January 1988 - April 1989.
Part-time Lecturer, Concordia University, Montreal, Canada.

October 1987 - March 1988.
Research Consultant, Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay.


Courses Taught

McGill University
Law, Identity and Aboriginal Peoples (McGill Institute for the Study of Canada, Fall 2004)
The History of Anthropological Thought (Fall, 2004, Fall 2006)
Globalization and Cultural Identity (Winter 2005, Fall 2006)
North American Native Peoples (Winter 2005, 2006, 2007)
Social Change in Modern Africa (Winter 2006, 2007)

Institute for Human Rights, Åbo Akademi University/Turku Law School, Finland.
Anthropological Approaches to the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Spring 2001).

Thule Institute, University of Oulu, Finland.
Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples (April, 2001).

Norwegian Institute of Human Rights, University of Oslo.
Culture, Identity and the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (May, 200l).

Harvard University
Anth. 161, Native Peoples of North America (Spring 1994, 1995; Fall 1995, 1996, 1997).
Anth. 227, Field Methods in Social Anthropology (Fall 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994; Spring 1996, 1997, 1998).
Anth. 110, Introduction to Social Anthropology (Spring 1991, 1992).
Anth. 252, African Ritual and Belief (Spring 1990).
Anth. 175r, Political Anthropology (Spring 1990).

Social Studies 98.
Seminars taught under this course heading were: Autonomy without Nationhood (Spring 1997); Prophecy, Scripturalism, and Violence in the contemporary World (Spring1996; Fall 1996); Comparative Studies of Native Peoples and the State (Fall 1995); Tribe, Religion and Politics in Africa (Spring 1990); Scholars, Saints and Magicians (Fall 1989).

Social Studies 10 (Fall-Spring 1990, 1991, 1993, 1994).
A lecture and seminar course for sophomores in the Social Studies concentration that involves in-depth study of some major social theorists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and a consideration of some historical problems to which their thought can be applied. The theorists include: Hobbes, Adam Smith, de Toqueville, Mill, Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Freud, Foucault, and Habermas.

Concordia University
Anth. 310, The Making and Unmaking of Anthropological Theory (Fall-Spring 1989).
Anth. 304, Native Peoples Today (Fall 1988).
Anth. 202, Introduction to Culture (Summer 1988).
Anth. 325, Magic, Science and Religion (Spring 1988).


Administrative Appointments

September 2006 – present.
Acting Director, Society for Technology and Development (STANDD), McGill University.

October 2005 - present.
Research Ethics Board, McGill University.

Sept. 2005 – present.
Faculty Board, Society for Technology and Development (STANDD), McGill University.

August, 1996 - June, 1998.
Social Anthropology Undergraduate Advisor, Harvard University.

July, 1989 - June, 1998.
Faculty Board, Committee on Degrees in Social Studies, Harvard University.

July, 1996 - June, 1998.
Faculty Advisor, Native American Program, Harvard University.

July, 1996 - June, 1998.
Evaluation Task Force, Harvard Project on Schooling and Children.


Expert Testimony

Massachusetts State Legislature.
Harvard Law School Immigration and Refugee Clinic.
Immigration Court, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Working Group on Indigenous Populations, Geneva.
World Health Organization, Geneva.


Referee for:

American Ethnologist
Comparative Studies in Society and History Canadian Journal of Native Studies
The Sociological Quarterly McGill-Queen’s University Press
The University of California Press
Harvard University Press
Blackwell Publishers
The National Science Foundation




In progress
The Rediscovered Self: Indigenous Identity, Justice and Cultural Representation. McGill-Queen’s University Press.

A World Beyond Difference: Cultural Identity in the Age of Globalization. Blackwell Publishers. 200 pages.

The Origins of Indigenism: Human Rights and the Politics of Identity. Los Angeles: University of California Press. 272 pages.

Spirit Wars: Native North American Religions in the Age of Nation Building. Los Angeles: University of California Press. 256 pages.

Defending the Land; Sovereignty and Forest Life in James Bay Cree Society. New York: Prentice Hall. 148 pages.

Articles and Chapters:

In press
“Postcolonialism and the Utopian Imagination.” In Postcolonial Theory and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, edited by Philip Salzman. New York: Routledge.

In press
“Native Peoples and the Global Indigenous Movement.” In Handbook of North American Indians: Indians in Contemporary Society, edited by Garrick Bailey. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution.

In press
“Aboriginal and Indigenous Peoples, Treatment of.” In Encyclopedia of Law and Society, edited by David S. Clark. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

In press
“Self-Destruction as a Way of Belonging: Understanding Cluster Suicides among Aboriginal Youth in Canada.” In Healing Traditions: The Mental Health of Aboriginal Peoples, edited by Lawrence Kirmayer and Gail Valaskakis. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

“Revival of Aboriginal culture and practices key to suicide intervention programs” Canadian Psychiatry Aujourd’hui. 3(1): 11,19.

“The New Politics of Resistance,” in The Indigenous Experience: Global Perspectives, edited by Roger Maaka and Chris Andersen. Toronto: Canadian Scholars’ Press.

“The Indigenous Claim for Recognition in the International Public Sphere.” Florida Journal of International Law. 17(3): 583-601.

“Digital Identity: The Construction of Virtual Selfhood in the Indigenous Peoples’ Movement.” Comparative Studies in Society and History. 45 (2): 532-551.

“Indigenous Peoples in a Global Era.” In Globalization and Community: Canadian Perspectives on Diversity and Vitality, edited by J.L. Chodkiewicz and R.E. Wiest. University of Manitoba Anthropology Papers 34, pp. 77-86. Winnipeg, MB: University of Manitoba, Department of Anthropology.

“Culture and the Judiciary: The Meaning of the Culture Concept as a Source of Aboriginal Rights in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Law and Society. 18 (2): 1-26.

“Recognizing Indigenism: Canadian Unity and the International Movement of Indigenous Peoples”. Comparative Studies in Society and History. 40 (1): 119-148.

“With the Health of a River Goes the Health of a People.” Native Americas. Summer. Akwe:kon Press, Cornell University.

“Treaty Violations and the Hydro-Payment Rebellion of Cross Lake, Manitoba.” Cultural Survival Quarterly. Spring: 18-21.

“Healing and Conversion; Medical Evangelism in James Bay Cree Society.” Ethnohistory. 44 (3): 463-491.

R.W. Niezen and Barbro Bankson. “Women of the Jama’a Ansar al-Sunna; Female Participation in a West African Islamic Reform Movement.” Canadian Journal of African Studies. 29 (3): 26-51.

“Mali.” In John Esposito (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

“Power and Dignity; The Social Consequences of Hydro-Electric Development for the James Bay Cree.” Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology. 30 (4): 510-529.

“Telling a Message; Cree Perceptions of Custom and Administration.” Canadian Journal of Native Studies. 13 (2): 221-250.

“Hot Literacy in Cold Societies; A Comparative Study of the Sacred Value of Writing.” Comparative Studies in Society and History. 33 (2): 225-254.

“The Community of Helpers of the Sunna; Islamic Reform among the Songhay of Gao (Mali).” Africa. 60 (3): 399-424.


In Press.
Marcel Fournier. Marcel Mauss: A Biography. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. American Anthropologist.

Philip Deloria. Playing Indian. New Haven: Yale University Press. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute.

Douglas Foley. The Heartland Chronicles. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. American Ethnologist.

Ernest Gellner. Muslim Society. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Journal of Asian and African Studies. 30 (1).

Elizabeth Grobsmith. Indians in Prison; Incarcerated Native Americans in Nebraska. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. American Ethnologist. 22 (4): 1058.

Antonia Mills and Richard Slobodin (eds.). Amerindian Rebirth; Reincarnation Belief among North American Indians and Inuit. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. American Ethnologist. 22 (4): 1058.

Lee Irwin. The Dream Seekers; Native American Visionary Traditions of the Great Plains. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. American Ethnologist. 22 (4): 1055.

Frank Speck. Midwinter Rites of the Cayuga Longhouse. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. American Ethnologist. 22 (4) 1057.

Menno Boldt. Surviving as Indians; The Challenge of Self-Government. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. American Ethnologist. 22 (4): 1056.

Joan Mark. The King of the World in the Land of the Pygmies. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Ethnohistory.

Leonardo Villalon. Islamic Society and State Power in Senegal: Disciples and Citizens in Fatick. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press. American Ethnologist. 22 (4): 1039.

Sehepard Krech III. Native Canadian Anthropology and History; A Selected Bibliography. American Ethnologist. 22 (4): 1040.

David Rich Lewis. Neither Wolf Nor Dog: American Indians, Environment, and Agrarian Change. Oxford: Oxford University Press. American Ethnologist. 22 (4): 1039.

Thomas A. Hale. Scribe, Griot, and Novelist; Narrative Interpreters of the Songhay Empire. University of Florida Press. Journal of Religion in Africa. 22 (2): 184-186.


Culture and the Judiciary: The Meaning of the Culture Concept as a Source of Aboriginal Rights in Canada. Report submitted to the Assembly of First Nations and the Grand Council of the Crees.

Cross Lake Crisis Intervention Program; Proposal for Suicide Prevention and Intervention.

Working Paper for Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Mental Health Policy Development.

Healing Narratives of the James Bay Cree. Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB).

Traditional Helping Systems and Social Services among the James Bay Cree. CBHSSJB.

Ronald Niezen and Richard Saint-Jean. Le Clientèle et les Services Sociaux dans la Région 10-B. CBHSSJB.