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Courtesy of James Bartleman

James Bartleman


“These were the bad years: poverty, racial discrimination, bullying and gothic reality. The worst was over before l was ten but the memory of exclusion remained with me for life and was rekindled through exposure to the Third World in my foreign service career.”

Out of Muskoka , J. Bartleman


“Advising Prime Minister Jean Chretien”. Courtesy of James Bartleman

A member of the Mnjikaning First Nation, James Bartleman served on each of the world’s habitable continents.

Born into poverty in Orillia, Ontario, in 1939, Bartleman encountered racism as the son of an Ojibwa mother and a white father. With financial support from a selfless benefactor, he graduated from the University of Western Ontario before joining the Department of External Affairs in 1966, becoming, as far as he could tell, its only Aboriginal officer.

After early postings to Bogota, Dhaka (where he opened Canada’s first mission in Bangladesh and convinced CIDA to help fund the WHO’s ultimately successful campaign to eradicate smallpox in the impoverished country), and Brussels, he headed the DEA’s Commonwealth Caribbean Division before serving from 1981 to 1983 as ambassador to Cuba, establishing close but wary relations with the mercurial Fidel Castro. After overseeing security and intelligence in the department (in which position, as he testified over two decades later at the public inquiry into the bombing of Air India Flight 182, he warned the RCMP of a potential Sikh terrorist threat to Air India planes leaving Canada the weekend of June 22-23, 1985), Bartleman became ambassador to Israel, where from 1986 to 1990 he witnessed the First Palestinian Intifada. As ambassador to NATO from 1990 to 1994, Bartleman was at the heart of both the Canadian and larger Western response to the sudden end of the Cold War and dissolution of the Soviet Union, including in the former Yugoslavia, where the eruption of long-suppressed ethnic violence prompted Canada to send peacekeepers. From 1994 to 1998 Bartleman was Prime Minister Jean Chrétien’s foreign policy advisor. He continued his diplomatic career as head of mission in South Africa (where his violent beating by a robber left him traumatized), then Australia, and finally as ambassador to the European Union.

In 2002, Bartleman was appointed Ontario’s 27th (and first Aboriginal) lieutenant-governor, spearheading major initiatives to combat suicide and illiteracy among the Aboriginal youth of northern Ontario.

He is an officer of the Order of Canada and a recipient of Queen Elizabeth II’s golden and diamond jubilee medals.

Video: James Bartleman speaking at Western University, 2019:

Further reading:

James Bartleman, Out of Muskoka (Newcastle: Penumbra Press, 2002).
James Bartleman, On Six Continents: A Life in Canada’s Foreign Service, 1966-2002 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2004).
James Bartleman, Rollercoaster: My Hectic Years as Jean Chrétien’s Diplomatic Advisor, 1994-1998 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2005).

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