I learned Patricia Monture died late on Wednesday, November 17th. It was sad news, and although she had struggled with illness, it was shocking news. She was such a powerful woman, so tireless in her pursuit of justice, she always seemed invincible to me. The idea that anything could stop her was unfathomable, beyond belief.
I first heard Patricia speak in a University of Saskatchewan class on institutional racism and Native peoples in Canada. She was incredible. Powerful and clear, she named the racism that weaves through Canadian society. Drawing from her experience, she articulated the pernicious and deeply personal impacts of a colonial system of oppression. The notes from that course are some of the only notes from my undergraduate classes that I still have years later.
The other course I still have notes from is Patricia Monture’s own. It was a class on treaties that completely changed how I understood my belonging. I still remember at the beginning of the class, she asked us all, ‘Who here has treaty rights?’ A few First Nations students raised their hands. I didn’t. Neither did the other white students. Patricia chided us. We should have proudly raised our hands, treaties were about everyone. They were shared agreements. They were the foundation for coexistence.
As it did for so many people, knowing Patricia changed my life. She exposed me to other ways of knowing the world, but she also showed me the role non-Aboriginal people had to play in decolonizing Turtle Island. Patricia was the one who convinced me to go to graduate school. She edited my proposal for graduate school, and wrote me my first reference letter. (While she was always Trish to her friends, colleagues and students, during this application process she told me in writing to always use her full name, and I am unable or unwilling to breach her conditioning even now).
Patricia always fought to make the world a better place. A citizen of Mohawk Nation, Grand River Territory, she was a fierce advocate of justice for Aboriginal peoples, and particularly attentive to the concerns of Aboriginal women. She was one of the first Aboriginal professors of law in Canada. After she determined Canadian law was the source of the problem and not the arena to look for solutions, she continued to blaze a path for future generations of Aboriginal and anti-colonial intellectuals in Native studies and sociology.
The power of her words continues to resound in the pages of her books and articles, including Thunder in My Soul: A Mohawk Woman Speaks (1995) and Journeying Forward: Dreaming First Nations Independence (1999). Most recently she released a co-edited volume (with Patricia McGuire), entitled First Voices: An Aboriginal Women’s Reader (2009). Since learning of her death, I have been flipping through her books, allowing her words to wash over me, coat me in wisdom and remind me that her voice remains with us.
She was a powerful writer and educator, the best I ever had. But more than just a teacher and an author, she was a mentor and an inspiration, a friend and a mother. She raised a beautiful family of three boys, Justin, Michael, and Jack, as well as a girl, Kate, who sadly passed away last year. She imbued her strength to a future generation. Her children and her students, her relatives and her friends, will continue to carry the responsibility of all that she taught us forward. And when we need her she will always be there to inspire us, just as she always was. She will be missed, but she will never be forgotten.