Dr. Lynn Gehl

Indigenous and First Nation Expert

Lynn Gehl is an Algonquin Anishinaabeg scholar, advocate, and artist. She is one of eight siblings and grew up in the projects of inner-city Toronto. She was born with a congenital disability where despite several surgeries and interventions today Lynn has a vision disability that affects many aspects of her life such as reading, writing, and walking. Lynn’s grandmother’s family was removed from her home community of Pikwakanagan First Nations because of sex discrimination in the Indian Act. Relegated to the confines of inner-city project living, growing up she experienced the worst of the human condition that manifest within racism, sexism, and ableism such as violence, poverty, a lack of safety, hunger, drugs, alcohol, and forced relocation.

Today Lynn’s work encompasses both hard core anti-colonial work and the celebration of Indigenous knowledge. She has a doctorate in Indigenous Studies, a Masters in Canadian Studies and Native Studies, a Bachelors in Cultural Anthropology (summa cum laude), and a community college diploma in Chemical Technology. During her graduate studies she was both an Ontario Graduate Scholar and a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada Fellow.

In her twenties Lynn began her family oral research and archival research to have members of her ancestry entitled to Indian status registration. While her grandmother and father were eventually instated, she was denied. Lynn then turned to Canada’s court system to remedy Indian and Northern Affairs Canada’s violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Through this court challenge the Department of Justice spent $1 million litigating against her on the matter of unknown and unstated paternity. After 30 years Lynn, in her late fifties, was finally registered as a status Indian, and is now in a more “central” place in her ancestral community of Pikwakanagan. While Gehl v Canada resulted in change in the Indian Act and the “Gehl remedy”, Lynn is ambivalent about her victory in part because she understands the power that the state had over her during this time, as well as fully understanding that the genocide continues in the form of both the Indian Act and the land claims process that is imposed on the Algonquin people.

Drawing on life experiences Lynn Gehl challenges Canada’s practices, policies, and laws of colonial genocide such as the Algonquin land claims and self-government process, sex-discrimination in the Indian Act on the matter of unknown and unstated paternity, Canada’s lack of policy and action addressing Indigenous women and girls with disabilities who are bigger targets of sexual violence, and the further destruction of Akikpautik / Chaudière Falls–an Anishinaabeg sacred place. As a non-production-oriented artist when Lynn feels like it, she weaves wampum belts, builds petro forms, beads feathers, creates collages, and paints.

Although due to a vision disability Lynn learned how to read and write at a later stage in life, she has four books. She also has several academic contributions in journals and chapters in books; 140 community contributions in magazines, websites, news papers, and op-eds; as well as 150 personal blogs. Lynn is frequently called upon as an expert by various media outlets to offer commentary on Indigenous issues. Lynn has also provided testimony to the Senate, the House of Commons, and the United Nations on the rights of Indigenous women and girls regarding unknown and unstated paternity and the matter of Indigenous women and girls with disabilities who are bigger targets of sexual violence

Topic Presentations

This talk reviews the long history of discrimination in the Indian Act and the history of Indigenous women challenging it. She discusses the creation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canada’s process of amending the Indian Act in 1985 to bring it in line with section 15, yet instead of eliminating the discrimination Canada created new forms of sex discrimination.

In Gehl v Canada Lynn tells the story of when she challenged the specific matter of unknown and unstated paternity where after 23 years of being tangled and trapped in Canada’s court system it was ruled by the Ontario Court of Appeal that she was entitled to a lesser form of Indian status. Within this discussion she fleshes out two constructs she created to challenge the nation state’s hegemonic power: The Indigenous Famous Five which evolved into the Indigenous Famous Six and “6(1)a All the Way!”. In this talk she reveals her deepest insights about power and Canada’s legal system as a way of coming to truth.

Many people have difficulty understanding the treaty process in Canada and how it shifted (read slithered) into the land claims process. With this, many people wonder if the current land claims process really is a modern treaty process that respects Indigenous rights as laid out in the United Nations Declaration of Indigenous people.

While the Algonquin Anishinaabeg of what is now called the Ottawa River Valley are the host of Canada the nation state, the Algonquin were denied a treaty during the historic treaty process yet our ancestors were present at the 1764 Treaty at Niagara and submitted their first land petition in 1776. In this talk Lynn draws on her first-person experience as an Algonquin and our history to illustrate that colonial genocide continues today.

Drawing on personal experience once situated in a decades long Charter challenge regarding sex discrimination in the Indian Act, situated within the Ontario Algonquin land claims process, as well as living with a vision disability this talk draws on materials created intended to critically inform and guide settler people and their descendants in their role and practices of reconciliation.

Lynn draws on the “The Ally Bill of Responsibilities”, and “A Colonized Ally Meets a Decolonized Ally: This is What They Learned” where the goal is moving people to critically think about structures of power beyond ‘meaningless actions’ and into the direction of ‘critically aware genuine actions’. All Beings and all people require clean land, water, and air where as such we all must reconcile our relationship between the Earth and greater cosmos through standing behind Indigenous people and their knowledge paradigm.

Black feminist thought created the concept “intersectionality” as a measure to help people understand the difficulties of living under more than one layer of structural oppression such as both sexism and racism. This talk begins with a discussion of what the concept means cognitively, and also what it means at the level of practice in terms of encountering people who are intersectionally oppressed and in terms of direction at the level of social justice. From this place of understanding the discussion will then shift to the matter of Indigenous women and girls with disabilities (IWagWid) who are disturbingly bigger targets of sexual assault.

Drawing on the Gehl Report (2021) the issues discussed will include: a discussion of the cause of disability; the limitations of the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls; a statistical snapshot of both their higher rates of disabilities and higher rates of sexual assault; a summary of all previous recommendations; and the call for a political model of disability which demands Canada do better in serving IWagWid. This discussion will be inclusive of Lynn’s recent United Nations written and oral submission during the “79th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Seeking Input on the Rights of Indigenous Women”.

Drawing on personal experience once situated in a decades long Charter challenge regarding sex discrimination in the Indian Act, situated within the Ontario Algonquin land claims process, as well as living with a vision disability this talk draws on materials created intended to critically inform and guide settler people and their descendants in their role and practices of reconciliation. I will draw on “The Ally Bill of Responsibilities”, and “A Colonized Ally Meets a Decolonized Ally: This is What They Learned” where the goal is moving people to critically think about structures of power beyond ‘meaningless actions’ and into the direction of ‘critically aware genuine actions’. All Beings and all people require clean land, water, and air where as such we all must reconcile our relationship between the Earth and greater cosmos through standing behind Indigenous people and their knowledge paradigm.

Black feminist thought created the concept “intersectionality” as a measure to help people understand the difficulties of living under more than one layer of structural oppression such as both sexism and racism. This talk begins with a discussion of what the concept means cognitively, and also what it means at the level of practice in terms of encountering people who are intersectionally oppressed and in terms of direction at the level of social justice. From this place of understanding the discussion will then shift to the matter of Indigenous women and girls with disabilities (IWagWid) who are disturbingly bigger targets of sexual assault. Drawing on the Gehl Report (2021) the issues discussed will include: a discussion of the cause of disability; the limitations of the national inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls; a statistical snapshot of both their higher rates of disabilities and higher rates of sexual assault; a summary of all previous recommendations; and the call for a political model of disability which demands Canada do better in serving IWagWid. This discussion will be inclusive of Lynn’s recent United Nations written and oral submission during the “79th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women Seeking Input on the Rights of Indigenous Women”.

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Gehl v Canada: Challenging Sex Discrimination in the Indian Act (2021)

A follow-up to Claiming Anishinaabe, Gehl v Canada is the story of Lynn Gehl’s lifelong journey of survival against the nation-state’s constant genocidal assault against her existence. While Canada set up its colonial powers—including the Supreme Court, House of Commons, Senate Chamber, and the Residences of the Prime Minister and Governor General—on her traditional Algonquin territory, usurping the riches and resources of the land, she was pushed to the margins, exiled to a life of poverty in Toronto’s inner-city. With only beads in her pocket, Gehl spent her entire life fighting back, and now offers an insider analysis of Indian Act litigation, the narrow remedies the court imposes, and of obfuscating parliamentary discourse, as well as an important critique of the methodology of legal positivism. Drawing on social identity and Indigenous theories, the author presents Disenfranchised Spirit Theory, revealing insights into the identity struggles facing Indigenous Peoples to this day.

Claiming Anishinaabe: Decolonizing the Human Spirit (2017)

Denied her Indigenous status, Lynn Gehl has been fighting her entire life to reclaim mino-pimadiziwin--the good life. Exploring Anishinaabeg philosophy and Anishinaabeg conceptions of truth, Gehl shows how she came to locate her spirit and decolonize her identity, thereby becoming, in her words, "fully human. " Gehl also provides a harsh critique of Canada and takes on important anti-colonial battles, including sex discrimination in the Indian Act and the destruction of sacred places. "Gehl is at the cutting edge with her concepts and ideas. .. She is on a journey and documents it well. " - Lorelei Anne Lambert, author of Research for Indigenous Survival "[C]lear, insightful, and desperately needed. .." - Lorraine F. Mayer, author of Cries from a Métis Heart "[T]he discussion of the heart and mind knowledge, as well as the discussion on the Anishinaabeg Clan System of Governance, [are] major contributions to the research. " - Marlyn Bennett, co-editor of Pushing the Margins

The Truth that Wampum Tells: My Debwewin on the Algonquin Land Claims Process (2014)

Based on my life as an Algonquin Anishinaabe-kwe, and my doctoral work, this book offers something for everyone: an analysis of Algonquin contact history, a first ever insider analysis of the land claims process, an examination of Algonquin agency, and an analysis of the continuing colonial project. It does this through valuing traditional ways of knowing and being such as wampum diplomacy, as well as valuing the role of both the heart and mind as repositories, and creators, of knowledge.

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