David B. MacDonald

Dr. David MacDonald


Here you will find details of my work as a Political Science Professor at the University of Guelph. From 2017 to 2020 was served as the Guelph Research Leadership Chair for the College of Social and Applied Human Sciences.

David MacDonald Profile

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.

I have been an active researcher for over two decades, with an emphasis on settler colonialism, Indigenous-settler relations, truth and reconciliation processes, genocide studies, identity politics and collective memory, comparative race relations, and multiculturalism. My work reflects the University’s Strategic Research Plan in promoting “excellence, partnership, diversity, and inclusivity” while seeking to use “knowledge and discoveries in impactful ways to shape understanding and improve life”. I research and write comparatively across Canada, Aotearoa New Zealand, Australia, and the United States.

My research output includes four sole authored books; four co-authored text books; four co-edited books; and co-edited academic journal special issues. I have also written or co-written 30 refereed articles/contributions, 40 book chapters, and close to 100 conference keynotes, presentations, papers, and panels. My three Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council grants as Principal Investigator are all focused on diversity and Indigenous-settler relations. The same is true of the three Partnership Development Grants on which I am or was a co-applicant, alongside three Connections Grants.

My research and teaching are closely interrelated, and draw in part on my training as a political scientist (in International Relations and Comparative Politics) and on my positionality as a racialized person. I am Indo-Trinidadian and Scottish raised on Treaty 4 lands in Regina, Saskatchewan (kisiskâciwanisîpiy).

I am active on three SSHRC grants:

  • “Complex Sovereignties: Theory and Practice of Indigenous-Self Determination in Settler States and the International System” Principal Investigator (with Sheryl Lightfoot 2017-2023)
  • “Decolonizing Settler States: Unravelling Systemic Blockages to Indigenous Rights in State Institutions and Civil Society” Co-Investigator (2021-24; value $199,796, ongoing) Partnership Development Grant (PI Sheryl Lightfoot)
  • “Settler Colonialism In Canada: Perspectives, Comparisons, Cases” (2022; value $32,474; Upcoming Conference in September and October 2022)  SSHRC Connections Grant 2022 (with Emily Grafton Lead and Jérôme Melançon) workshop on settlers “Settler Colonialism in Canada: Perspectives, Comparisons, Cases.”

For my Insight Grant project website, please visit the Complex Sovereignties website

I am the North American series editor for the Palgrave MacMillan book series Global Political Sociology,

I serve as a member of the Reconciliation Committee of the Canadian Political Science Association https://cpsa-acsp.ca/trc/.

Fellow at Te Puna Rangahau o te Wai Ariki,  NZ Centre for Indigenous Peoples and the Law, Law School, Waipapa Taumata Rau / University of Auckland, Tāmaki Makaurau, Aotearoa New Zealand.  https://www.auckland.ac.nz/en/law/our-research/research-centres/aotearoa-nzc-indigenous-peoples-law.html

Recent Publications

The Sleeping Giant Awakens: Genocide, Indian Residential Schools, and the Challenge of Conciliation (University 0f Toronto Press, 2019) 244 pp

sleeping giant bookConfronting 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

Comparative Politics: Integrating Theories, Methods, and Cases, First Canadian Edition co-authored with T. Dickovick and J. Eastwood (Oxford University Press Canada, 2020).Comparative Politics

Integrating theories, methods, and country cases with an emphasis on application and analysis. Combining thematic organization and a variety of country-specific case studies, Comparative Politics Integrating Theories, Methods, and Cases is an engaging and accessible introduction to comparative politics. Methodological tools are introduced early in the text and integrated throughout to help students develop a systematic way of doing their own analyses of concepts and issues. These tools include theories, the basics of the comparative method, and manageable case materials for practice, all in the context of the big questions in comparative politics today.

Populism and World Politics: Exploring Inter- and Transnational Dimensions Co-Edited (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019), 343ppPopulism and World Politics

This volume is the first to analyze populism’s international dimension: its impact on, and interaction with, foreign policy and international politics. The contributions to this volume engage conceptual theoretical issues and overarching questions such as the still under-specified concept of populism or the importance of leadership and the mass media for populism’s global rise. They zoom in on populism’s effect on both different countries’ foreign policies and core international concerns, including the future of the liberal world order and the chances for international conflict and cooperation more generally.


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