Munk School Fellow Kyle WillmottMunk School Fellow Kyle Willmott
Economy & prosperity, Public policy, Munk School

Senior Fellow Kyle Willmott brings ‘big thinking’ on Indigenous-Settler Relations to Munk School Students

Professor Kyle Willmott spends a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a taxpayer – and more specifically, what it means to be a taxpayer in a settler-colonial state.

As a political and economic sociologist, that means identifying narratives about Indigenous relationships with settlers and the Canadian government, and how those play out in policy and political debates.

His appointment as a 2023 Fellow-in-Residence at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy has afforded him “the intellectual space” to focus on this work.  

Though Willmott is typically based in Vancouver as an assistant professor of sociology at Simon Fraser University, he sees his eight-month fellowship at the Munk School as an opportunity to deepen his research. He’s focusing on developing relationships with other fellows and faculty in the University of Toronto network, and sharing his work on campus.

In addition to spending the bulk of his fellowship writing about the fiscal politics of Indigenous-settler relations, Willmott is carving out time to share his expertise by hosting discussions with students during the school term. Having studied at U of T as an undergraduate in sociology and geography, bringing his research back to campus has been a rewarding experience.

At an early March “lunch and learn” session with master’s and undergraduate students from seven different Munk School programs, Willmott shared his research on how advocacy groups in Canada have pushed racist narratives about Indigenous people to further neoliberal policy agendas. The session examined the broader public policy implications of how these groups have framed Indigenous people as a burden on “the taxpayer”. A member of the Mohawks of the Bay of Quinte First Nation, Willmott has published his research findings on Indigenous-settler relations in a more reader-friendly, accessible format in The Conversation. Students were particularly intrigued by the examples Willmott brought to the group about the complications of taxation on Indigenous nations in a settler-colonial state.

To further expand on the topic, Willmott is also putting together a one-day symposium in May on the fiscal and economic politics of settler colonialism. This larger event will bring experts and academics from across U of T and beyond to dive into different facets of how economic and fiscal policy structure Indigenous-state relationships.

For public policy students, particularly those who will go on to become policymakers in any level of government, Willmott’s work has obvious applications regarding taxation and economic regulations in the Canadian context. Interesting too, will be discussions about how policies or policy proposals are packaged and sold to citizens.

For global affairs students, Willmott’s research provides an interesting perspective for those wanting to pursue development work. As most countries that are subject to development or foreign aid agendas were colonized in recent history, finding equitable approaches to how states collect and distribute revenue can be challenging.

In addition to hosting student discussions, Willmott has enjoyed the chance to collaborate with other professors and fellows at the University on subjects like land appropriation and taxation. “The University of Toronto is a hub of research activity, and a great meeting place for research on law, public policy, sociology, and Indigenous studies.”