Sheryl Lightfoot


Relevant Thesis-Based Degree Programs

Affiliations to Research Centres, Institutes & Clusters


Great Supervisor Week Mentions

Each year graduate students are encouraged to give kudos to their supervisors through social media and our website as part of #GreatSupervisorWeek. Below are students who mentioned this supervisor since the initiative was started in 2017.


Despite being in global demand and usually found flying around the world Sheryl is really down to earth. Her teaching style is subtle and layered; she has so much knowledge and experience but you have to LISTEN, there are no cheat sheets. She is phenomenal in her ability to groom young academics into communities and jobs where our work can contribute to meaningful change for the larger Indigenous and global communities. With each step of the PhD process, her expectations, and the opportunities she offers increase and its up to you to decide how committed you are. If you're prepared to do the work, she's got your back.  

Denali YoungWolfe (2019)


Graduate Student Supervision

Doctoral Student Supervision

Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Hope is hard won: gender and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (2022)

The Canadian state’s relationship to Indigenous peoples has been characterized by genocidal policy, societal marginalization, and, more recently, efforts towards reparation and reconciliation. Such efforts include the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) - tasked with establishing a comprehensive record of the Indian Residential School System and its legacy - which concluded in 2015. In Canada, the experiences of Indigenous women sit at the nexus of patriarchy and settler colonialism, each system of oppression facilitating attendant injustices. At the outset of the TRC, the Native Women’s Association of Canada (NWAC) called for the implementation of culturally relevant gender-based reconciliation, rooted in Indigenous epistemologies. I respond to this call by asking how the TRC recognized Indigenous women's gender oppressions both in practice and in analysis. Informed by transitional justice and Indigenous studies literatures, I apply a transformative reconciliation lens to the TRC. Reconciliation is frequently invoked in the praxis and theory of transitional justice, but the term remains under-specified. I define transformative reconciliation as an ongoing process that centres collective responsibility, relationality, and disrupting both colonial and patriarchal relations of power. I analyze the TRC’s setup and historical context, proceedings, and outputs using discourse analysis and NWAC’s criteria for gender-responsive truth commissions. I find that while the TRC achieved and continues to achieve broad exposure of the truths of residential schools, the commission offered few avenues for furthering transformative reconciliation and gender justice. The TRC did not purposively incorporate gender equity in its programming and outputs. I identify a discourse of absence throughout the TRC in which the political agency of Indigenous women and the specifically gendered aspects of their experiences in and after residential school are underexplored. I conclude by theorizing an alternative discourse of survivance, arguing that by furthering elements of survivance, in particular revisiting the concept of witnessing in the longer-term; incorporating resistance and refusal; and understanding the experiences of intergenerational survivors, the academic field and practice of transitional justice could see greater possibilities for furthering gender justice and transformative reconciliation.

View record

Okawimawaskiy: regenerating a wholistic ethics (2021)

For generations, Cree Elders and other Indigenous philosophers on iyiniwi-ministik (North America) have recognized that revitalizing concepts of ourselves from within our Indigenous knowledges can bring about new lived realities. This recognition is partially reflected in Indigenous political theory as an examination of the ‘self’ of self-governance (Alfred, 2005) or the process of what was once called ‘surviving as Indians’ (Littlebear, Menno & Boldt, 1993), and is today often called ‘resurging as Indigenous peoples’ (Wildcat, et al., 2014). Building from Indigenous resurgence literature, my research takes a deep insurgent turn inward to explore the ethical implications of a Cree-recognized self formed in relationship with okâwîmâwaskiy or ‘mother earth.’ While it's important to understand how colonization affects the self or how we and others think about nîhiyawâtisowin / Creeness and Indigeneity, colonization is also an ongoing problem because it effects a certain non-nêhiyaw/non-Cree concept of the self.In effect, wîhtikow politics or a colonial, dehumanizing and consumptive-driven politics has eaten away at a wholistic Cree ethical understanding of ourselves and relationships with others. In revitalizing a Cree wholistic ethics, I deal with two ongoing woundings inflicted by wîhtikow politics: the attempted killing of a spiritual domain of the self and the displacement of our mothers from within wholistic Cree relations. I argue that the resurgence of a self grounded in okâwîmâwaskiy is attending to these wounds. Drawing primarily on Cree narratives, language and contemporary Cree theory and practice, I seek to relocate okâwîmâwaskiy in Cree life to better illuminate the life-ways that comprise this sense of self. Though represented as a mother’s care, the wholistic layers of okâwîmâwaskiy distribute the responsibility of care among all living beings and offer a care based on wholistic needs.

View record

Naammaktunga (I am well)! Feeding families and people-food relationships in Kugluktuk, Nunavut: exploring what the lenses of food sovereignty and Indigenous resilience can offer to food system governance (2020)

Despite extremely high costs of living, many people in small, remote communities in the Canadian Arctic appear to be successfully feeding their families. In academic and policy literatures, the food security lens has contributed important knowledge about hunger in the north; however, its emphasis on deficits and problems risks overlooking enabling mechanisms of people-food relationships. Lenses (and their underlying worldviews) have been shown to shape food system governance, including responses to food-related phenomena such as hunger. By exploring the capacities of different lenses (food security, food sovereignty, Indigenous resilience) to characterise key aspects of people-food relationships, this in-depth ethnographic research examines and illustrates their potential impacts on northern food system governance. In order to achieve this, I developed a grassroots, holistic understanding of people-food relationships in the hamlet of Kugluktuk, Nunavut using a modified grounded theory approach. Three key overarching themes emerged: identity, living in relation and power/resources. Individual/collective wellbeing is at the heart of these themes. Food nourishes a sense of ‘self’ and identity, which is foundational to living in relation through (food) sharing, being on the land together, visiting and knowledge transmission. Identity and relationships are shaped by participation in power systems (e.g. local/external institutions) and control of resources (e.g. food, livelihood, governance). The lenses under investigation were then applied to emergent themes, revealing that Indigenous resilience was most capable of representing these. This is the first study of its kind in Nunavut, with several important research findings. Northern food system governance may benefit by continuing to enhance community-level decision-making authority, and acknowledging/enabling peoples’ abilities to successfully feed their families and foster individual/collective wellbeing. Continued focus on mitigating factors –what enables – will likely benefit future food-related policy practice and research, and help recognise and support the strengths, resiliencies and wellbeing of northerners. The complexity and nuance of people-food relationships necessitates consideration of appropriate food lenses, such as those informed by Indigenous and wellbeing practices (e.g. living in relation, reciprocity, occupancy) and scholarship, as well as how these are interpreted (e.g. user perspectives), in order to further enhance northern food system governance.

View record

Weaving our authority together: transforming the prairie Indigenous political order (2020)

This dissertation looks at the ways settler colonization has impacted Indigenous political orders on the prairies. Settler colonization has caused a move from a previously decentralized but regionally interconnected political order to a political order where Indigenous governments hold centralized authority but without substantive forms of regional interconnectedness. Indigenous governments also have corresponding set of formal rules around citizenship that precludes any overlapping memberships. I describe the creation of discreet realms of political authority and citizenship within the prairie Indigenous political order as the rise of exclusive sovereignty. In response, I argue we need to move towards a relational sovereignty. A relational sovereignty asks us to acknowledge the pluralist forms of how Indigenous peoples create political communities and corresponding practices of relational citizenship. A pluralist understanding of communities reveals the multitude of ways Indigenous peoples political organize within, outside, and between Indigenous governments. Relational citizenship asks us to acknowledge the ways people live out obligations of kinship and care with each other between various communities. I argue one way to move toward a relational sovereignty is through a wahkohtowin movement. I discuss an example of a wahkohtowin movement within the Maskwacîs Education Schools Commission. I also outline a facilitative method I am tentatively calling relational governance that seeks to build capacity for a wahkohtowin movement. Relational governance asks Indigenous communities that are seeking to create new arrangements of governance “How do we locate responsibilities, within a relational web, based on Indigenous law?”

View record

Master's Student Supervision

Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.

How bear lost his tail : an Indigenous perspective on inclusive deliberative democratic theory as applied to the Canadian societal context (2018)

There exists a deep societal divide in Canada between Indigenous and settler societies. A divide which has continuously reared its head through demonstrations of violence, rage, or impassioned dismissal of the pursuit of justice for historical wrongs. As Indigenous voices for justice rise, Canada’s federal and provincial governments respond with policy and legislative change to address Indigenous unrest. Despite the introduction of numerous policies, legislation, and initiatives in an attempt to appease Indigenous voices, Canada has continuously failed to address the foundations of Indigenous calls for justice and has failed to address the disparities between Indigenous communities’ and non-Indigenous communities’ quality-of-life indicators, which in turn are a direct ramification of the injustices perpetuated against Indigenous peoples to which they demand recognition, recompense and reconciliation. When viewed through the lens of deliberative democratic theory the existence of deep societal division and the continual marginalization of particular social groups, appears counterintuitive when one considers the concentrated effort to promote their political inclusion, equality and publicity of Indigenous groups. In investigating this occurrence this thesis will conduct a review of Iris Marion Young’s model of deliberative democratic theory with a specific focus on Young’s four pillars of deliberative democratic theory for the pursuit of social justice, followed by an engagement with Frantz Fanon’s work on the psycho-afflictive disorders settler-colonial societies inflict and are reliant upon. By doing so this thesis will argue that settler colonialism creates, entrenches and makes invisible the systems which are responsible for the social delineations between us and them, between settler society and Indigenous societies, and between have and have nots. Further I argue that deliberative democratic theory, through its varied social justice mechanisms, is incapable of addressing the fundamental and structural mechanisms colonialism has created, which ensure the marginalization, disempowerment and dispossession of Indigenous peoples, systems on which the legitimacy of the colonial state relies. To overcome such shortfalls, Young’s pillar of ‘reasonableness’ must be actively pursued through a commitment and concrete action to unearth and challenge the foundations of settler-colonialism and to refute the divisionary policies on which the polity that is Canada has been built.

View record

Compliant(ish): Norm evasion and avoidance in doping, tax, and Indigenous rights (2016)

Norms literature assume that opponents of norms do not comply with its prescriptions, and will actively reject its’ logic patterns. While this may describe some patterns of norm contestation, actors that openly contest generally accepted norms may incur unbearable penalties. Other theories presume that a state may accept a norm’s logic patterns, but not comply as a result of an inability to comply. Evasion and avoidance present a different way of envisioning how actors may approach norms, compliance, and logic systems by delinking compliance and acceptance of normative logic. These concepts introduce opportunism as a key variable that also challenges presumptions about actor intentions. By examining the cases of doping in sport, tax law, and Indigenous rights, a pattern emerges where actors have been able to manipulate a norm’s compliance signals to technically comply with a norm while defeating the norm’s objectives. In turn, this allows actors to enjoy the benefits of non-compliance or partial compliance and compliance simultaneously, and escape detection by appearing to be compliant with the norm itself. These two concepts implicitly challenge the concept that compliance is a binary variable, and builds on a growing literature that suggests that the grey area between the poles of compliance and non-compliance may be more complex than expected.

View record

Canadian aboriginal violence: Retooling Hirschman's concepts of voice and exit (2014)

The purpose of this study is to identify barriers faced by Aboriginals when employing voice channels for political and civic participation. This article begins with an overview of literature addressing participation paradigms. It critiques previous literature and offers a mathematical model to address the cost-benefit analysis Aboriginals face when employing various voice channels within Canada. This study is divided into two parts. Part I examines the costs to employing voice channels typically ascribed to Aboriginal participation. Part II, employs a case study of an Environmental Assessment currently underway between BC Hydro and the West Moberly First Nations. The case study applies ideas developed in Part I, highlighting barriers to Aboriginal participation. Throughout, this research examines the colonial relationship found within Canadian institutions and offers a new approach to restructure the relationship between the Crown and Aboriginal peoples.

View record

News Releases

This list shows a selection of news releases by UBC Media Relations over the last 5 years.

If this is your researcher profile you can log in to the Faculty & Staff portal to update your details and provide recruitment preferences.


Follow these steps to apply to UBC Graduate School!