NEWS
11/22/2018 11:13 EST | Updated 11/22/2018 11:38 EST

Angelique EagleWoman, 1st Female Indigenous Dean Of A Canadian Law School, Is Suing Lakehead University

She was appointed head of Lakehead University's law school in May 2016 and resigned in June.

Randy Risling/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Students walk about the campus of Lakehead University.

TORONTO — A woman who became the first female Indigenous dean of a Canadian law school has launched a lawsuit against the university, alleging it racially discriminated against her and forced her to resign from the post earlier this year.

Angelique EagleWoman, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe of South Dakota, was appointed head of the law school at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., in May 2016 and resigned in June.

In an unproven statement of claim filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice last week, EagleWoman's lawyers allege the university subjected her to excessive oversight and monitoring that created unsustainable working conditions.

"The (university's) ongoing micromanagement, failure to provide (EagleWoman) with the tools, resources and support needed to succeed in her role and failure to address the hostile work environment ultimately led to the complete deterioration of the working relationship,'' they wrote.

The Canadian Press
Angelique EagleWoman, a member of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate Tribe of South Dakota, was appointed head of the law school at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., in May 2016 and resigned in June.

EagleWoman is seeking $2.67 million in damages, a figure that she says would compensate for lost wages and account for damages for "harm to dignity, feelings and self-respect,'' among other things.

Lakehead said it had received the statement of claim but would not comment on ongoing litigation. The school added that it had not yet filed a statement of defence.

The 48-year-old EagleWoman had moved from Pullman, Wash., to accept the dean's post, which she was supposed to hold until June 30, 2021, the lawsuit said.

"This was an expensive and socially difficult transition for (EagleWoman) and her son ... but one (she) believed to be worthwhile in light of this significant opportunity,'' it said.

Undermined, decisions made without consulting her: lawsuit

The university's law school was founded in 2013 with the intent of focusing on Indigenous programming. It aims to cultivate lawyers who can analyze the law from an Aboriginal perspective.

The lawsuit alleges that EagleWoman's authority was undermined by the school, which placed a consultant in the chain of command between her and her direct supervisor. That consultant was also authorized to bypass EagleWoman and respond directly to faculty and staff, according to the statement of claim.

"This was not only demeaning for (EagleWoman), it undermined her authority and conveyed the message to others in the faculty that the (university) did not support her,'' the document said. "This made it increasingly difficult for (EagleWoman) to manage faculty members and staff.''

She was given the impression that she was not deserving of the position of dean and was not hired on merit.

The lawsuit also alleged the university's ombudsperson was made interim director of student services and skills at the law school without EagleWoman being consulted.

"(EagleWoman) encountered open hostility and resentment from a small segment of the faculty, staff, and students,'' the document claimed. "She was given the impression that she was not deserving of the position of dean and was not hired on merit.''

EagleWoman alleged she encountered particular resistance from two faculty members, who "became unco-operative and openly defiant,'' the statement of claim said.

Non-Indigenous judge appointed as interim dean

It said she tried to rectify the situation, requesting that the then-president and vice-chancellor hold a "culturally relevant Indigenous mediation process to allow her to voice her sense of powerlessness and to address the discriminatory behaviour she had been experiencing within the law faculty.''

That request was denied, the document said.

She also requested that the school "implement cultural competency/interaction training to improve the environment within the law school. She emphasized that such training was necessary to address ongoing tensions'' and respond to a call to action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Those requests were also denied, according to the statement of claim.

Weeks after EagleWoman's departure, a non-Indigenous provincial judge was appointed as interim dean of the law school to the chagrin of some First Nations leaders.

A review found that in accepting the position, Justice George Patrick Smith broke a rule that mandates judges avoid "controversy or public debate that could expose them to political attack.'' By the time that ruling came down, Smith had already resigned from the dean's post and he was not punished.

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