The Trent University community is saddened to learn of the passing of Elder and professor Doug Williams, Gidigaa Migizi (‘69), of Curve Lake First Nation. A hunter, fisherman, historian, ceremonialist, scholar, educator, storyteller, pipe carrier and writer, Gidigaa Migizi dedicated his life to protecting and enhancing the treaty rights of Indigenous people; and teaching Indigenous Traditional Knowledge (ITK) and language.
As an innovative educator, Gidigaa Migizi, embedded ITK and knowledge systems within the academy. One of the first graduates of Trent University’s Native Studies program, he stayed involved with the University, helping to shape academic programs, administrative policies and cultural practices, advancing education about Indigenous peoples. He was co-director of the Indigenous Studies Ph.D. program, overseeing the cultural elements of the program. Prior to joining Trent as a student and then as a faculty member, Gidigaa Migizi was a bricklayer who helped build Champlain College. As stated in his obituary notice, "as a respected knowledge holder, elder and teacher at Trent University, he influenced many and provided land-based teachings."
In addition to his role as co-director of the Indigenous Studies Ph.D. program, Doug was a professor with the Chanie Wenjack School for Indigenous Studies at Trent and served on the University’s Indigenous Education Committee and the Elders & Traditional Knowledge Keepers Council. Through this work, he helped to bridge two very different world views, bringing ITK into the academy through land-based teachings and oral traditions and stories of growing up in Curve Lake.
Within his community, Doug has had a successful political career, serving as chief and as a band councillor for many decades. Beyond politics, he held the highest honours within Anishnaabeg spirituality as a pipe-keeper, and a leader of sweat lodges and other spiritual ceremonies.
A champion of the Anishnaabeg nation, Gidigaa Migizi was an active negotiator for formal, legal recognition of treaty rights. His greatest accomplishment in this arena is the advocacy work he undertook in the precedent setting case: R v. Taylor and Williams. Working through the court system, bringing legal recognition to pre-confederation treaty rights through the interpretation of Treaty 20, 1818. As a result of this landmark case, he defended the right to hunt and fish for signatories to the Williams Treaties. The impact of this settlement is immeasurable.
Doug was an inspiration for all who met him and gained knowledge from his experiences. He dedicated his life’s work to Curve Lake, the Michi Saagiig Anishnaabeg Nation, and Trent University, because he believed in the potential of future generations of Indigenous students, and because he saw the path to reconciliation through the education of Indigenous and non-Indigenous people.
He led with gentle wisdom, teachings of kindness, courage and bravery, and a commitment to keep working towards a better tomorrow. Prior to his passing, he was awarded the 2022 Distinguished Alumni Award for his contributions to Trent University and to the Anishnaabeg Nation.
The University extends heartfelt sympathies to Gidigaa Migizi’s family and friends, and to all who knew him at Trent. First Peoples House of Learning firekeepers held a sacred fire July 14, in the tipi in Mnidoowag A'Kiing Traditional Area next to Enwayaang. In honour of Gidigaa Migizin, the flag atop the Bata Library will be lowered to half-mast position on July 19, the day of his service.