Sleeping GiantDavid's Latest Publication:

Confronting the truths of Canada’s Indian Residential School system has been likened to waking a sleeping giant. In this book, David B. MacDonald uses genocide as an analytical tool to better understand Canada’s past and present relationships between settlers and Indigenous peoples. Starting with a discussion of how genocide is defined in domestic and international law, the book applies the concept to the forced transfer of Indigenous children to residential schools and the "Sixties Scoop," in which Indigenous children were taken from their communities and placed in foster homes or adopted.

Based on archival research and extensive interviews with residential school survivors, officials at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, and others, The Sleeping Giant Awakens offers a unique and timely perspective on the prospects for conciliation after genocide, exploring how moving forward together is difficult in a context where many settlers know little of the residential schools and the ongoing legacies of colonization, and need to have a better conception of Indigenous rights. It offers a detailed analysis of how the TRC approached genocide in its deliberations and in the Final Report.

Crucially, MacDonald engages critics who argue that the term genocide impedes understanding of the IRS system and imperils prospects for conciliation. By contrast, this book sees genocide recognition as an important basis for meaningful discussions of how to engage Indigenous-settler relations in respectful and proactive ways.



  • "The Sleeping Giant Awakens is a significant assessment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the legacy of Indian Residential Schools. It comes at a watershed time in Canadian history. While grounded firmly in the academic literature, MacDonald uses language that will be easily accessible to a general audience and draws upon the insights of Indigenous scholars and writers in making his argument. It will be an important resource in talking about historical truths that continue to resonate today and which need to be acknowledged if there is any hope for reconciliation in this country."
    Robert Alexander Innes, Department Head of Indigenous Studies, University of Saskatchewan

  • "David B. MacDonald incites the reader to do some serious soul searching about the true nature of Canada. Canadians are called upon to engage in fresh thinking and create a new, right, and respectful relationship with Indigenous peoples. It will involve deep questioning of the status quo, vision, and imagination to clear the new path. The Sleeping Giant Awakens is a catalyst for necessary change."
    Shelagh Rogers, OC, TRC Honorary Witness, Chancellor, University of Victoria

  •  "The Sleeping Giant Awakens presents a thorough and forceful examination of Canada’s history with Indigenous peoples. By exploring the colonial, even genocidal, legacy of the Indian residential school system, This book represents a tough, timely, and thoughtful account. Our progress towards reconciliation depends on a true and unflinching acknowledgment of this dark chapter in Canadian history."
    Mike DeGagné, President and Vice-Chancellor, Nipissing University, and Executive Director of the Aboriginal Healing Foundation

  • "The Sleeping Giant Awakens probes the decolonizing, transformative potential of (re)conciliation between Indigenous and settler peoples in Canada through the lens of settler colonial genocide. MacDonald argues that the United Nations Genocide Convention (UNGC) applies to Canada’s Indian residential school system and Sixties/Seventies Scoops, deepening our understanding of how genocidal systems and structures function over time in settler colonial states. Documenting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s work and challenging Canada’s settler colonial historical and multicultural narratives, he MacDonald makes a compelling case for why Canadians must confront a hard truth − that government actions to destroy Indigenous peoples’ cultures, governance systems, and laws through forcible child removals and land dispossession constitute genocide. Settler peoples must then accept responsibility for taking up the TRC’s calls to action in ways that roll back state rights to fully recognize Indigenous rights of self-determination and resurgence and ensure the return of Indigenous lands. A must-read for all those who care deeply about the ongoing journey of truth, justice, and reconciliation in post-TRC Canada and beyond."
    Paulette Regan, senior researcher and lead writer on the reconciliation volume of the TRC Final Report and author of Unsettling the Settler Within: Indian Residential Schools, Truth Telling, and Reconciliation in Canada

  •  "The Sleeping Giant Awakens offers the most robust consideration of the genocide question in Canada to date. It provides a clear view of the complex origins of the genocide concept, as well as its applicability to Indian residential school and scoop-related child transfers in Canada. MacDonald’s lengthy engagement with this topic and his keen, inquisitive mind are evident on every page of the book." He has travelled widely in Canada, read broadly, and, most importantly, listened carefully to Survivors and Elders. For this reason, he focuses not only on naming the harms of settler colonialism but also on what a deeper sense of conciliation might mean for Indigenous-settler relations."
  • Andrew Woolford, Department of Sociology and Criminology, University of Manitoba, President of the International Association of Genocide Scholars


David B. MacDonaldHere you will find details of my work as a Political Science Professor at the University of Guelph. As of July 2017, I am also the Guelph Research Leadership Chair for the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences. This is an initial three year position with the option of a further two year extension. This is an exciting development for me, which allows me more time and funding to meet with people around the country and on campus and develop research projects. 

Much of this website relates to my research, generously funded by the Social Sciences and Research Council of Canada and the University of Guelph. Since 2007 I have been a faculty member at the University of Guelph, and I was promoted full professor in 2013. From 2002-2007 I was a Lecturer, then Senior Lecturer in the Political Studies Department at the University of Otago, New Zealand. Before this time, from 1999-2002, I was Assistant Visiting Professor at the École Supérieure de Commerce de Paris (now ESCP-Europe). I obtained my PhD in International Relations in 2001 from the London School of Economics.

In my work, I focus on Comparative Indigenous Politics in Canada, Aotearoa New Zealand, United States. I have also worked expensively in the areas of International Relations, American foreign policy, Holocaust and genocide studies, and critical race theory.  My mother's family is Trinidadian Indian and my father's family is originally from Scotland but goes back many generations in Nova Scotia. Since these roots have been important in my upbringing and influence the direction of my work, I inevitably bring a multicultural perspective to pressing issues in political science which I hope creates a useful angle through which to assess some aspects of international and domestic politics. Please feel free to have a look and explore my articles, chapters, and books, read my blog and check out my links page. You will also find information on my research grants from the Social Science and Humanities Council of Canada.

As you will see, I have an active SSHRC Insight Grant as Principal Investigator:

"Complex Sovereignties: Theory and Practice of Indigenous-Self Determination in Settler States and the International System” (with Sheryl Lightfoot 2017-2022)

  • I am also a co-applicant on two SSHRCC Partnership Development Grants:
    • - "Transformative Memory: Strengthening an International Network" Co-Applicant on a SSHRCC Partnership Development Grant (Pilar Riano-Alcala at UBC is PI) 2018-21; value $197,690).
    • - “Embodying Empathy: Fostering Historical Knowledge and Caring Through a Virtual Indian Residential School” Co-Applicant on a SSHRCC Partnership Development Grant (Andrew Woolford is PI)     2014-17; value $196,000).
  • I supervise numerous students at the MA and PhD levels and am always happy to welcome inquiries for supervision and paid graduate research work!  Please have a look at my website for many interesting publications and email me for an interview, or help if you need it. Would you like to work with me?
  • Fellowships in Indigenous Politics and/or Multiculturalism, Race, Ethnicity, Identity

Two categories of Fellowships are available for Graduate Research Assistant positions at the MA and PhD levels, awarded to students under my supervision. Additional funds may be available for research and conference travel, and for co-authored publications. There are two categories of fellowship available, the first is funded through a SSHRC Insight Grant “Complex Sovereignties: Theory and Practice of Indigenous-Self Determination in Settler States and the International System” (I am Principal Investigator and Sheryl Lightfoot at UBC is Co-Applicant), and the second is through my Research Leadership Chair position. Research fellows will work with me on projects aligned with my two main research foci. Focus one, funded by the IG includes Indigenous self-determination (Canadian, comparative, and international dimensions), Indigenous-settler relations, reconciliation and political transition, electoral reform, genocide studies. Focus two includes reconciliation studies, racialized peoples and identity in Canada, mixed race identities, multiculturalism, Caribbean and/or South Asian representation in Canada, colonization in British settler states. Students may also propose other ideas related to any of the above topics.

For further information please contact me at david.macdonald@uoguelph.ca