As the chancellor, Sinclair will act as the “ceremonial head and highest officer” of the Kingston, Ont., university. He will sit on both the university council and its board of trustees, as well as a number of committees for each.
Sinclair recently retired from the Canadian Senate, was the former chief commissioner of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and acted as Manitoba’s first Indigenous judge. He currently serves as general counsel to Cochrane Saxberg LLP, Manitoba’s largest Indigenous law firm.
The chancellor position is an unpaid volunteer position. Sinclair will not move to Kingston to perform his duties, but will visit when necessary.
Queen’s says Sinclair will be overseeing convocations in spring and fall, attending board and university council meetings and be available for committee work. He will stay in Benidickson House when on campus.
In an interview Wednesday, Sinclair said he took the position on because he sees it as a continuation of his extensive work on reconciliation with Indigenous people in Canada.
“Queen’s has a long history in Canada, so it’s got a legitimate reputation that it needs to make known to the country. But in addition to that, of course, its affiliation with Sir John A. Macdonald and the impact that he had on Indigenous people in residential schools stands as a weight on its back,” he said.
Macdonald was the first prime minister of Canada, based in Kingston, but also played a key role in setting up the residential school system that ripped Indigenous children from their families in a systematic process of forced assimilation.
In October 2020, Queen’s University voted to remove Macdonald’s name from its law building in a move to address systemic racism.
Sinclair says he was in talks with the school’s principal, Patrick Deane, for some time before about how the university should deal with what Sinclair called “a burden of history” when it comes to its track record dealing with Indigenous people, a burden he says all Canadian institutions have.
“This one certainly has a direct relationship with one of the figures of history that has been most involved in the oppression of Indigenous people through the residential school system and through laws and policies that were enacted through Parliament in the past,” Sinclair said.
Although Sinclair acknowledged that the role was in a way an invisible one, he thought it was important, especially considering his goals for reconciliation.
“I think that by having an opportunity to contribute to the image of the school, the image of the university, the image that the community generally at large has of itself, and changing that image to the extent that is necessary is an important part of what this undertaking is all about. And I’m looking forward to the challenge,” he said.
Deane said in a statement Wednesday that he was thrilled to have Sinclair on board as the school works to focus on its “social impact.”
“I cannot think of anyone better suited to advise us on that course than His Honour, one of Canada’s most significant advocates for Indigenous peoples. We feel privileged to work with him,” said Deane.
Sinclair is Anishinaabe and a member of the Peguis First Nation. He is also a fourth-degree Chief of the Midewiwin Society, a traditional healing and spiritual society of the Anishinaabe Nation.
The former Senator was selected through a nomination process by committee, led by Deane. The committee was tasked with selecting the chancellor based on several attributes, including “commitments to sustainability, and equity, diversity, inclusion, and Indigeneity.”
Sinclair has an honorary doctorate from Queen’s University, which he obtained in 2019.
The current chancellor, Jim Leech, will remain in the position until June 30, and then will act as chancellor-emeritus, available to help with convocations in the fall.
— With a file from The Canadian Press.