Nov. 25, 2021

Congratulations to Ashpal Atwal!

On winning the 2021 Dr. Stanley Drabek Graduate Scholarship in Political Science!
In the mountains

Dr. Stanley Drabek Graduate Scholarship in Political Science was established to assist and encourage students who, through their studies, will contribute to the development and dissemination of knowledge specifically about the Canadian political system.


Ashpal Atwal is working under the supervision of Dr. Maureen Hiebert: can you tell a bit about what makes Ashpal’s work stand out?

Ashpal’s thesis addresses a really interesting—and puzzling—law and politics research question: Why do some Indigenous groups pursue rights and land title claims through the courts in the face of intransigence by legislative bodies even though both the courts and legislatures are settler colonial institutions? At the same time, why do other Indigenous organizations and communities dismiss the courts as colonial institutions, preferring instead to achieve their goals in other ways? Ashpal’s project engages with longstanding debates surrounding interest group litigation in democracies and will shed light on what role, if any, litigation might play in processes of reconciliation and decolonization in Canada

Ashpal Atwal in the mountains

Ashpal, your own broad research interests include the interaction and relationship between Indigenous peoples, the court system, and the use of litigation as a political strategy. How did you come to focus on these areas?

I have always been interested in Canadian political institutions but after taking POLI 343 (now POLI 342) with Dr. Maureen Hiebert, I became passionate about judicial politics and the role that the courts play in our political system. It was during this time that I wanted to learn more about how strategic actors can use the court system as an alternative to traditional political avenues to advance their interests or advocate for their rights. It is under this context that I started looking at the ways in which some Indigenous peoples and groups use the courts as an alternate way to advocate for their rights.

Can you tell us a bit about your specific proposed thesis research?

My thesis mainly focuses on two questions. This first question that I am researching is: Why do some Indigenous peoples and groups choose to use the court system as an alternative way of advocating for their rights despite the colonial nature of the court? Secondly, my research looks to see how successful Indigenous litigation has been and if it is something that can be successful going forward. Within this second question, my research will also look at the ways in which the implementation of Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 has shaped the way Indigenous peoples have interacted with the court.

It’s still early days for your research, but what are your next steps in your program?

I am currently looking at the relevant literature in the field and the evidence that I can use to support my thesis. I am hoping that my research will contribute to the overall literature in Canadian political systems, particularly in the study of Canadian judicial politics.

Congratulations to Ashpal Atwal on your 2021 Dr. Stanley Drabek Graduate Scholarship in Political Science!


For more information on our paper prizes and past prize winners, please visit the Political Science, Awards and Scholarship web page.