Jessica Coon named Director of the Mellon-funded Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative

Jessica Coon, Associate Professor in the Department of Linguistics, has been appointed Director of Mellon-funded Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative.

This past summer, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a US$1.25-million grant to McGill University, in support of a new Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative. The Initiative will be implemented over the next five years.

The Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative will contribute to efforts such as:

  • Building on our existing Minor program in Indigenous Studies to create a Majors and Honours, as well the longer-term goal of a graduate option.
  • Increasing Indigenous language revitalization and support initiatives.
  • Supporting tenure-track academics across the university who seek to understand Indigenous societies from within, while recognizing and engaging with their constitutive philosophies, histories, epistemologies, identities, practices of political governance, cultures, and languages.
  • In-community pedagogies and partnerships with educators, administrators, and knowledge keepers
  • Cultivation of new partnerships with both English and French-speaking Indigenous communities, ensuring that linguistic and cultural diversity is a signature feature of this effort.
  • Ensuring a sense of community for Indigenous scholars and students through scholarly interactions generated by new teaching and research opportunities, and through public events that highlight Indigenous leadership and scholarship, and create opportunities for knowledge sharing and networking, within the McGill community and beyond.
  • New Indigenous Artist-in-Residence, Elder-in-Residence and Writer-in-Residence programs.
  • The Mellon Distinguished Lecture: an annual opportunity to bring a world-renowned Indigenous scholar or leader to campus for a public lecture, and to lead workshops, symposia and other events.

In her role as Director, Coon will be working in close collaboration with the Director of the Indigenous Studies Program (currently Christa Scholtz, and incoming director Noelani Arista), the Provost's Special Advisory on Indigenous Initiatives (Kakwiranó:ron Cook), First People's House, and others with interests in and connections to Indigenous research and education across campus. Together, they will also be consulting with Indigenous communities to ensure that the initiative supports the interests and needs of community-based initiatives, and builds new avenues for collaboration.

The Mellon fund will build on current initiatives, including the development of the growing Indigenous Studies Program. As well, there will be new programs in line with the goals of the funding, including new Artist-, Writer-,and Elder-in -Residence Programs, support for Indigenous language revitalization initiatives, as well as funding to support travel and community-engaged research partnerships for students, staff, and faculty.

"I'm honoured to take on this role, but also agreed to do so with the understanding that this is an enormous responsibility. At McGill, we are at a critical juncture on the path toward implementing the action items in the Provost's Task Force Report and the TRC more broadly. This initiative can help us to build on current momentum to better serve Indigenous students, faculty, and staff; to promote Indigenous research on and off campus; to build stronger relationships with local Indigenous communities; and to incorporate Indigenous knowledge and understanding into the university––improving the McGill experience for everyone. I'll be consulting broadly on the best path forward, and my door is open to anyone who would like to talk,” said Coon.

Currently, Coon is chairing the current provostial search in Indigenous Languages––a joint position between Linguistics and DISE in Education to build McGill’s capacity in Indigenous language research and reclamation––and is working on her own research which focuses on Indigenous languages of the Americas.

For more information on the Mellon-funded Indigenous Studies and Community Engagement Initiative, visit

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