The name “Donald Marshall Jr.” is synonymous with “wrongful conviction” and the fight for Indigenous rights in Canada. In Truth and Conviction, Jane McMillan – Marshall’s former partner, an acclaimed anthropologist, and an original defendant in the Supreme Court’s Marshall decision on Indigenous fishing rights – tells the story of how Marshall’s fight against injustice permeated Canadian legal consciousness and revitalized Indigenous law.
Marshall was destined to assume the role of hereditary chief of Mi’kmaw Nation when, in 1971, at the age of seventeen, he was wrongly convicted of murder. He spent more than eleven years in jail before a royal commission exonerated him and exposed the entrenched racism underlying the terrible miscarriage of justice. Four years later, in 1993, he was charged with fishing eels without a licence. With the backing of Mi’kmaw chiefs and the Union of Nova Scotia Indians, he took the case all the way to the Supreme Court to vindicate Indigenous treaty rights in the landmark Marshall decision.
Marshall was only fifty-five when he died in 2009. His legacy lives on as Mi’kmaq continue to assert their rights and build justice programs grounded in customary laws and practices, key steps in the path to self-determination and reconciliation.
Jane McMillan’s close account of Donald Marshall’s subjection to racism and mistreatment serves as a point of reference for wider reflections about constitutional protections, treaty rights, and the promise of Indigenous self-governance. Her work is meticulously, even intimately researched, driven by an abiding and controlled sense of indignation, and narrated with deep empathy. Unless you are already on the front lines of justice reform, this book will change the way you think about Indigenous rights and criminal justice in Canada. (Ronald Niezen, Canada Research Chair in the Comparative Study of Indigenous Rights and Identity, Faculty of Law and Arts, McGill University)
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This book offers powerful, insightful, and intimate insights into Mi’kmaw law and lifeways. It contains a perfect mix of stories, context, history, and analysis. It is just what I need to understand and be able to teach law in more nuanced ways. (John Borrows, Canada Research Chair in Indigenous Law, University of Victoria)
Jane McMillian has written an admirable, engaging, and formidable book about an Indigenous man’s quest for justice against the systemic injustices of Canada. (Sákéj Henderson, Research Fellow, Native Law Centre of Canada, University of Saskatchewan)
Truth and Conviction tells the story of Donald Marshall Jr., his impact on criminal justice and treaty rights, and the ongoing struggle of the Mi’kmaq to have their own laws and justice system. It also tells the story of the author herself, a settler with deep connections within the Mi’kmaw Nation. McMillan’s experiences have given her many thoughtful insights into what is needed to achieve meaningful reconciliation in the country – especially for those living in Mi’kma’ki. (Naiomi Metallic, Chancellor’s Chair in Aboriginal Law and Policy, Schulich School of Law, Dalhousie University)