L. Jane McMillan, PhD., CRC

L. Jane McMillan, PhD., CRC

Professor, Chair of the Department
306B(off), 306A(lab)
J. Bruce Brown Hall
(902) 867-5021

As a former Canada Research Chair (2006-2016) Dr. McMillan distinguishes herself in two distinct ways: (i) through her deep ethnographic and participatory engagement in Indigenous communities, which is informing public policy and transforming understanding of sustainability through cultural knowledge, and (ii) her national and international collaborative research networks that develop research partnerships, widely disseminate research outcomes, train highly qualified personnel, and build capacity in Indigenous communities and at the university.

Dr. McMillan is a legal anthropologist who conducts and participates in innovative, primarily community-initiated research, focused on the intersections of Indigenous knowledge with community strategies for implementing treaty and Aboriginal rights. Her analytical focus delineates the processes by which Indigenous peoples translate historical and legal identities into contemporary practices. It also identifies how these processes are then legitimated, or not, within emerging economic, political and cultural institutions, as Indigenous peoples negotiate the terms of intergovernmental responsibilities, accountability and sustainability in their efforts to rupture patterns of colonial dependency.

Indigenous Peoples and Sustainable Communities Collaborative Ethnographic Research Lab and Knowledge Mobilization Studio is an innovative research space that supports new approaches to research and research training, by and with Aboriginal peoples. It is the locus for innovative, community initiated, capacity building research. The Canadian Foundation for Innovation infrastructure provides the tools for enhanced recruitment and training of highly qualified personnel, resulting in extensive applied collaborative research programs ranging from Indigenous issues of family violence, through sustainable resource regulation, to governance. Outcomes are disseminated locally, nationally and internationally through presentations, conferences, policy reports and publications.


The video below "Seeking Reconciliation," is a research film done by St. Francis Xavier University Students Cecelia Scoles and Devann Sylvester - 2016.



Below is part one of the visual ethnography series, Seeking Netukulimk: Mi'kmaq Knowledge, Culture, Capacity, and Empowerment.




Fall Term:

  •  Anth 112:10  ocio-Cultural Anthropology
  • Anth 234:10  Intro Indigenous Anthropology
  • Anth 332:10  Mi'kmaq Studies



Program of Research

Dr. McMillan’s research is focused on modern interpretations of the Mi’kmaq treaties that have allowed for the restructuring of social relationships between Indigenous peoples and settler societies. The Supreme Court of Canada Marshall decision instigated the redistribution of natural resources, enabling an increase in opportunities for economic development and autonomy and limiting the historical alienation and marginalization of Mi’kmaq peoples. Dr. McMillan’s ethnographic and interdisciplinary research investigates Mi’kmaq strategies of treaty implementation, rights negotiation, social capital expansion and how they are translated into legitimate actions within Mi’kmaq ecological knowledge, governance, jurisprudence and sociocultural perceptions and practices. The Mi’kmaq have entered an intensified period of institution building that has far-reaching economic, political and cultural consequences for community sustainability. The Mi’kmaq are determining value systems and codes of conduct to help regenerate distinctive cultural identities in neoteric contexts to increase social cohesion in
a period of rapid change and to assist in the management of their new relations with each other, their resources and the larger society. The negotiation processes and the management of new relations are integral to the sustainable success of self-governance, economic independence and social justice. The empowerment of Mi’kmaq communities is imperative for the creation of negotiated settlements that are in the best interests of the cultural health of the communities and finally break the cycles of negative colonial relations that have plagued developments in these vital areas. These are processes that will be repeated across the country as treaty and land claims are settled in other Indigenous communities.
Key Objectives
1. To develop collaborative research networks between Mi’kmaq communities and St. Francis Xavier University.
2. To collect community views, attitudes, expectations and experiences regarding the meaning and implementation of Aboriginal and treaty rights.
3. To examine past and current implementation processes and evaluate community satisfaction with respect to the fulfillment of their expectations and entitlements as outlined above.
4. To detail the institution building practices and processes post Marshall in order to document what has changed and what has not according to community perspectives in the development of accountability strategies in the implementation of communal rights in diverse communities.
5. To examine the plans to facilitate capacity building and sustainable community development through treaty and Aboriginal rights interpretation and implementation, and to delineate the processes whereby policies are legitimated or not within Mi’kmaq ecological knowledge, governance, jurisprudence and sociocultural practices.
6. To explore how the Marshall decision is articulated in Mi’kmaq legal and historical consciousness.
7. To learn about the variety of visions of Mi’kmaq social justice, the divergent strategies for operationalizing the visions in terms legitimate to the Mi’kmaq by investigating social change, social processes and social conflicts.
8. To provide an analysis of the perceived obstacles to creating community-owned and -controlled social programs that are sustainable, and examine why some strategies work and others fail.
9. To investigate the intersections of Indigenous knowledge, strategies for implementing treaty and Aboriginal rights, and sustainable community development in Mi’kmaq country beyond the Marshall decision.



1. Netukulimk Phase One: Seeking Netukulimk

Netukulimk is a Mi’kmaq cultural concept long held to be important in sustainable resource use and currently under consideration as a potential strategy for exercising sovereignty in Mi’kmaq country. Centuries of aggressive colonial policies and the failure of the Crown to honour treaties signed with the Mi’kmaq since the 1700s, have worked to diminish Mi’kmaq connections to their resources. However, because of Donald Marshall’s resolution to go eeling the Mi’kmaq realized a small victory in the explosive 1999 Supreme Court of Canada decision R. v. Marshall that resulted in the affirmation of Mi’kmaq treaty rights, a subsequent redistribution of access to natural resources, and the reinvigoration of Netukulimk. I was his fishing partner. This primary research explores how Netukulimk is configured within Mi’kmaq historical and legal consciousness, and examines the challenges of legitimizing the concept within the diverse practices of Indigenous ecological knowledge, governance, justice and making a living.

2. Mi'kmaq Family Violence

This work was completed in partnership with the Tripartite Forum and the Atlantic Aboriginal Health Research Program. Violence in Mi’kmaq communities is commonly perceived as ‘normal’. Desensitization toward violence is a consequence of the intergenerational traumas brought about through centuries of attempted ethnocide, coerced assimilation, discriminatory legislation and the destruction of families, communities and culture by outsiders seeking to control Mi’kmaq rights, territory and resources. Overwhelmingly the participants in this research indicated that poverty, addictions and culture loss are the most significant contributing factors to the perpetuation of family violence. Ongoing systemic discrimination, racism, alienation and marginalization from justice, education, economic and health institutions limit opportunities to address individual and collective problems of family violence. Internal and external colonization contribute to divisive lateral violence. The majority of family violence incidents are not reported due to a complex matrix of factors including: real and perceived prejudice by police, courts and community services; uncertainty of rights; shame; extended family and community power dynamics; severe lack of exit options including housing, employment, transportation, addictions; and fear of losing children.

This research concludes that there are three critical paths to addressing the problem of family violence in Mi’kmaq communities. First is the understanding that the cultural health of Mi’kmaq people requires recognition of Mi’kmaq rights and title, meaningful consultation and fulfillment of the fiduciary obligations of the Crown. Without rights education and the implementation of Mi’kmaq historical and contemporary treaties, systemic discrimination and poverty will continue to contribute to the experiences family violence. A second path is to strategically continue to improve Mi’kmaq experiences within the mainstream justice system through the expansion and enhanced collaboration of the services of Mi’kmaq Legal Support Network, Mi’kmaq Victims Services, Mi’kmaq Family Healing Programs and other wellness programs. The third and perhaps most important path is to create meaningful, flexible and culturally appropriate mechanisms for community intervention and remedy through the creation of a collaborative, consensual, comprehensive strategy involving Mi’kmaq education, health, justice, addictions, employment and political institutions to improve familial relations, cultural safety and support for people that choose not to leave volatile domestic situations and for those who do not wish to seek remedies in the Canadian justice system.


3. The Marshall Project: An Evaluation of the Implimentation and Efficacy of the Marshall Inquiry Recommendations in Nova Scotia

This project of the Tripartite Forum focuses on a research and community consultation approach to evaluating the outcomes from and impacts of the recommendations in the Report of Royal Commission on the Donald Marshall Junior Prosecution (the Marshall Inquiry). The goal of this project is to develop a thorough picture of the impacts of the recommendations, identify where there are successes and where there are gaps, and to bring into this picture the input, vision and hopes of the Mi’kmaw community members, who will be engaged in the research through a series of community forums.


4. Seeking Netukulimk Phase Two Rebuilding the Nation: Indigenous Cultures, Capacities and Governance

The current program of research is moving the Netukulimk Project into Phase Two. Building on the research team's record of practice and achievement, the Rebuilding the Nation: Indigenous Culture, Capacities and Governance research program will examine the intersections of Indigenous knowledge, public policy and legal anthropology to explore Mi'kmaq strategies for capacity building and sustainable community development, particularly through the lens of treaty and Aboriginal rights and Mi'kmaq nation rebuilding experiences. The research examines the social impacts, changes and conflicts relating to the claims, institutions and relationships emerging from the Supreme Court of Canada decision in R. v. Marshall [1999], which affirmed Mi'kmaq treaty rights within the meaning of s. 35 of the Constitution Act, 1982. Specifically analyzing the institution building and rebuilding occurring through the formation of the Mi'kmaq Nationhood Proclamation, the Mi'kmaq-Nova Scotia-Canada Tripartite forum, and the Kwilmu'kw Maw-klusuaqn (also known as the Mi'kmaq Rights Initiative), this research will explore the mechanisms involved in legitimating and implementing Indigenous rights. It will also scrutinize the strategies and programs developed to manage and sustain rights and benefits within Mi'kmaq communities and between the Mi'kmaq nation and the state.


5.  Urban Aboriginal Wellbeing, Wellness and Justice: A MicMac Friendship Centre Needs Assessment Study for Creating a Collaborative Indigenous Mental Resilience, Addictions and Justice Strategy.


To address Indigenous alienation from health care and wellbeing services, cultural competency and safety training are needed in the western approach to health care so that service providers are receptive and understanding of cultural contexts of Indigenous peoples. Participants in this UAKN research agreed that service providing environments free of racism and stereotypes, that are inclusive of Indigenous spirituality and populated with Indigenous health care providers, are urgently needed.

A community-driven approach to research ensures that knowledge is translated into action by building capacity among participants. This research was undertaken to assist the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship Centre in responding more effectively to the mental resilience, wellbeing and justice needs of the urban Indigenous populations they serve. The findings enhance the MNFC’s ability to deliver vital navigational tools for beneficiaries of mental resilience, wellness and addictions programs and help build the cultural competency/safety capacity of non-Indigenous service providers in assisting Indigenous clients in the Halifax Regional Municipality. Additionally, the 4 findings suggest that the MNFC is an important site for cultural reconciliation and for building alliances to break down the systemic discriminatory barriers that interfere with opportunities for and experiences of wellbeing among urban Indigenous populations. Throughout this research the participants positively identify the MNFC, its staff and programs, as culturally significant sources of hope, healing and belonging. These elements are recognized as essential to their wellbeing, wellness and self-determination.

• Urban Indigenous experiences of wellness, wellbeing and justice are complex, gendered and diverse;

• Kinship is important for wellbeing in the city;

• Friendship Centre serves critical kinship functions;

• Friendship Centre is a “safe” and “healing” place;

• Friendship Centre is both bridge and anchor, roots and limbs;

• Service gaps are exacerbated by compartmentalized approaches to healing;

• Problem of access to culturally meaningful services in the city; • Single parent residences and wellness rooms will assist family wellbeing;

• Service providers are not connected with Indigenous communities;

• Services providers want to connect but do not know how;

• Trust takes time;

• Significant need for education programs and experiential learning opportunities to engage with Indigenous ways of knowing and being;

• Holistic trauma and post residential school supports are lacking;

• Culturally relevant assessment / mapping tools are critical to building effective navigation support services;

• Insufficient funding and poor long-term inclusion planning are detrimental to the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples in urban centres;

• People crave culture, spirituality, elder advice and the basic need for human kindness and support;

• Accessing mental health services difficult without a family doctor, long wait times, heavy reliance on Emergency access;

• Systemic discrimination, racism, stereotypes and stigma are prevalent in justice and health services; • Collaborative, comprehensive assistance is urgently needed to address lack of basic necessities of life (food, shelter, safety);

• Indigenous peoples want their rights and identities respected and reflected in the city;

• The MNFC is a site of reconciliation between settlers and Indigenous peoples through its cultural exchange and healing programs and these programs need ongoing support;

• Dire need for Indigenous services providers and long term Indigenous centered facilities for substance misuse recovery and wellbeing.

The Urban Aboriginal Wellbeing, Wellness and Justice project provided an excellent opportunity for new scholar research training by employing two graduate students who participated in every step of the research process. Under the direction of the co-principle investigators, the students helped design the community engagement process, created the needs assessment tools, coordinated research activities, gathered, organized and analyzed data, prepared information packages, and disseminated findings. Students also gained experience in grant writing; a tool they can give back to the urban Indigenous community by assisting programs in writing applications for much needed funding.


6.  Building a Social Policy Framework for the Health and Well-being of Mi’kmaq Communities: A Two-eyed Seeing Approach.  Dr. Fred Wien, principal investigator.

Social policy is very important in Mi’kmaq and other First Nation communities because so many people -- about half in the case of those who are Mi’kmaq living on reserve in Nova Scotia -- depend on social assistance and related programs for some or all of their income. Leading edge research from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research and other sources concludes that the environment provided to children, youth and adults by a life on social assistance – an environment characterized by poverty, stress, insecurity and challenges to parenting – has implications for health and well-being outcomes.

Mi’kmaq communities have been constrained in the development of social policy because of the federal requirement that programs need to be comparable to what is offered by the Province, despite the fact that the communities are distinctive both culturally and in other ways. However, the opportunity now exists for Mi’kmaq people to negotiate a sectoral self-government agreement that would allow them to develop and implement their own approach to social policy. This fits readily with a “two-eyed seeing” perspective, a concept that originated with Mi’kmaq elders working closely with one of our team members. It is an approach that encourages drawing on the perspectives of both “Western” and Mi’kmaq traditions. The initiative to regain control in the social field is also in keeping with research that shows better health and other outcomes result when First Nation communities are able to control their own affairs and develop policies and programs that are culturally congruent.

This action research project addresses the following questions:

(1) drawing on Western and Indigenous perspectives, what are the forces that have historically contributed to high levels of dependence in Mi’kmaq communities, and how have governments responded to the need for income and other forms of support in this context? What do these policy/program responses tell us about the underlying social policy framework of the federal and Nova Scotia governments?

(2) Relying on secondary, quantitative data, what are the characteristics of the social assistance population and the linkages to health and well-being outcomes? How have levels of dependence changed in recent decades, and what accounts for this? What barriers do the Mi’kmaq on social assistance population face in seeking entry or re-entry to the employed labour force?

(3) How is the social assistance population affected by the changing roles/opportunities for Mi’kmaq men and women and changing family dynamics (e.g., the high proportions of absent fathers and single parent families)? What is the lived experience of persons relying on social assistance and what role do social policies and programs play in their lives? How can these be improved?

(4) What are Indigenous (Mi’kmaq) traditions of providing social and family support, as derived from literature, language, stories, songs and ceremonies, and from discussions with elders? What are the concepts, principles and assumptions that underlie this approach and how do they differ from Western ones?

(5) Drawing on the above, on extensive discussions within the Mi’kmaq community, and on examples of promising practices from other jurisdictions, the action component of this project involves designing a social policy framework with the Mi’kmaq people of Nova Scotia. The social policy framework needs to be both culturally and situationally appropriate, supportive of families while also supporting persons to become self-reliant.

The project uses several methodologies, drawing from both Western and Indigenous traditions and including both quantitative and qualitative approaches.

This project represents a partnership between the Atlantic Aboriginal Health Research Program and the Mi’kmaq Rights Initiative of the Assembly of Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq Chiefs.







McMillan, L. Jane and Anthony Davis (2010, August 29). Let the Mi’kmaq Manage Resources. The Chronicle Herald, The Novascotian, D3.

Approximately fifteen profiles have appeared in local and national presses including The Globe and Mail, Mi’kmaq Maliseet Nations News, The Chronicle Herald and the Antigonish Casket, highlighting my research activities or presenting my opinions.

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