Robin R. R. Gray
‘Niit, tansi, greetings. My name is Dr. Robin R. R. Gray. I am Ts’msyen from Lax Kw’alaams, B.C., and Mikisew Cree from Fort Chipewyan, A.B. I am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga, and I hold non-budgetary cross-appointments in the Graduate Faculty of Sociology and the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto St. George. Most recently, I was appointed to an unprecedented role as the Special Advisor on Rematriation to the Vice-President & Principal at the University of Toronto Mississauga (2022‑23).
As the daughter of an Indian Residential School Survivor, I am proud to say that I went from GED to Ph.D. in ten years while grounding my research in Indigenous Studies. I earned a Ph.D. in Anthropology (2015), a Graduate Certificate in Native American and Indigenous Studies (2015), and an M.A. in Anthropology (2010) from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. I am also a proud “Bennett Belle” earning a B.A.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies (2008) from Bennett College—one of only two Historically Black Colleges serving women in the United States. While at Bennett, I was an O. LaVelle Bond Diversity Scholar in the Johnnetta B. Cole Global Diversity & Inclusion Institute, I played NCAA Division III basketball for the Bennett Belles Basketball Team, and I studied abroad for a semester at the University of Otago in Aotearoa (New Zealand) which included a cherished homestay with a Māori family who treated me like whānau (extended family). I was also the first self-identifying Indigenous woman to graduate from Bennett College in its herstory.
In general, my research focuses on the politics of Indigeneity—or the state of being Indigenous—in settler colonial contexts such as Canada, the United States, Australia, and Aotearoa/New Zealand. I am also a community-based researcher which means that my research foci are guided by the unique needs, priorities, and values of Indigenous and local communities. For example, the Urban Native Youth Association—an Indigenous youth-led organization that I used to work for—held a series of youth forums in Vancouver, B.C. where Native youth consistently expressed the need to address the intergenerational effects of the Indian Residential School System (IRSS) in Canada. My Master’s research responded to those youth calls to action by partnering with the Urban Native Youth Association and collaborating with Native youth to create a Photovoice project that interrogated the landscape of remembering and forgetting in Canada, and exposed the legacies of the IRSS. Likewise, while in graduate school, the leader of my dance group asked me to “keep an eye out for our songs” while I was studying abroad because she knew that our songs were out there somewhere and that our people needed to reunite with them for collective healing and wellness. In response to her request, and on advisement from other Ts’msyen, I have been leading a multi-sited and community-based case study with, by, and for Ts’msyen to repatriate a single collection of Ts’msyen songs from multiple archives.
From studying the global Indigenous repatriation movement, and in leading the first repatriation case study for my people, I have found that repatriation as a concept is rife with possessive logics and colonial legalities. Repatriation is limited by Euro-Western ideas about nationhood, personhood, property, and ownership. When Indigenous peoples seek to recover disinterred, stolen, misappropriated, and captured ancestors, belongings, and knowledges from states, subjects, and institutions, the imposed path of return is typically framed by Euro-Western laws and often paved with paternalism. Ts’msyen and other Indigenous peoples need new paradigms for reparation and return that foreground Indigenous laws, ethics, and protocols, that create more just socio-political possibilities, and that engender decolonial futures. My new research proposes rematriation as the antithesis to repatriation. My first book manuscript, tentatively titled Rematriation: Paradigms for Indigenous Futurity (in progress) foregrounds Indigenous laws, ethics, and protocols and uses an Indigenous feminist lens to analyze the poetics and politics of Indigenous return and the implications for Indigenous nationhood. Focusing on the active qualities of rematriation—or what rematriation is, what it wants, what it takes, and what it does—my new research shows that the future of Indigenous nationhood depends on rematriation paradigms, and that rematriation is necessary for realizing decolonial futures.