L. James Dempsey

September 20, 1958 - April 15, 2022
April 20, 2022 10 Condolences Print Obituary

It is with profound sadness we announce the passing of Dr. L. James Dempsey (Kii’tsimoni) on April 15, 2022. In celebration of James’s life, his legacy and memory will live through his son Spencer (Patricia) Sumner; his parents Hugh and Pauline Dempsey; his sisters Louise (Joe) Dempsey and Leah (Shane) Koski; his brother John (Ronna) Dempsey; his aunty Doreen (John) Garvey; his long-time love Betty Karpinski and her two boys Paul and Aaron that James cared for like his own children. James was predeceased by his sister Lois Dempsey.

As a member of the Blood Tribe, James can best be described as an educator, collector, musician, leader, classic car enthusiast and lover of everything sports. These traits were at the core of his friendships and interests. He was one of those rare people that turned his passion into a career and then followed that path with great happiness and success right to the end. James left nothing on the table and was able to fulfill all his dreams and goals.

James attended the Universities of Alberta and Calgary where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in 1985 and Master of Arts in 1987. He came to the University of Alberta in 1992 as the new Director of the then School of Native Studies. Previously, he was the Acting Dean for the Saskatoon Campus of the Saskatchewan Indian Federated College (now First Nations University of Canada). In 2001 he received his PhD from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England. He was also on the Board of Governors at the Royal Military College of Canada. James had influences over all that knew him, but it was the job he had from 1998 and onward as Associate Professor of Native Studies at the University of Alberta that would forever impact and change the lives of all those who had the pleasure of being taught by him. The courses he taught in general Indigenous history, history of Indigenous peoples in western Canada, the Indian Act, and land claims informed and influenced generations of people that would go on to make real differences in the lives of Indigenous people across the country.

From his early days, James had a strong interest in the social, economic and political impacts of war. He combined that interest with his involvement in the Indigenous and academic communities to create an important learning opportunity as he had several of his works published, including "Warriors of the King, Prairie Indians in World War I" and "Blackfoot War Art: Pictographs of the Reservation Period, 1880 to 2000". James has written extensively on Indigenous history and culture for over twenty five years.

James comes from a very large extended family and relatives, which include the families of the Gladstones, Healys, Heavy Runners, Tailfeathers and Foxes. A Celebration of Life will be planned around James' favorite event – the Calgary Stampede. Announcements will be posted soon so that all who knew him cam come together and talk, laugh and share our stories and memories of James. In lieu of flowers please consider a donation in honor and in memory of James to the Edmonton Humane Society or Alberta Cancer Foundation.

  1. This is very sad news. James was one of my Professors in my undergrad and a colleague when I started my career at Native Studies. I remember his smile and laugh. My sincere condolences to his family, Betty and her boys, and all mourning his loss.

  2. So sorry to hear of James passing. He was a truly wonderful professor and shaped my academic and career choices. Unforgettable human being, my sympathies to his friends, family and loved ones. To the Faculty of Native Studies and all his past students who lives were shaped and impacted by James.

  3. I am very sad by this sudden news of the passing of James. I knew professor James Dempsey in the 90’s when he had his books and documents in different “shacks”, as he used to say. I had already finished my degree in education and he invited to enroll in the School of Native Studies in 1973. James was more than a professor for me, he was a friend and in those years he was and is my brother. And now that he is passing to the spiritual world, he is somewhere. I hope I would meet him again.
    I send my condolences to all his family and loved ones. We have lost a great man.

  4. Dr James Lloyd Dempsey was a favorite professor of mine while I completed my Native Studies BA degree from 2011-2013 and I always looked forward to his classes I attended. He had a great sense of humor, a tremendous wealth of knowledge and always had time for his students. James was very kind and had a big impact on my success as a mature student and always treated me with 🙏 respect. His family would be happy to know the positive impact Dr Dempsey had on his students and will be greatly missed. Such a loss to the Native Studies Faculty at the UofA. James is irreplaceable ❤️

  5. Condolences to the family, sending my prayers & smudge

  6. For a time, my office was beside James’ at the Faculty and I would often hear him talking to students. He always took great care to explain concepts and discuss their papers. He never rushed and it was clear that he loved the content and teaching it. I respected him. My condolences to his friends and family.

  7. I was so sad to hear of Dr James Dempsey’s passing. I was student of his 2010-2013 and I could have taken more classes with him if I could have. He had a profound affect on me, even before I was student of his. I will never forget him, his knowledge or the sense of peace he gave me when, even before I knew who he was, I saw him in passing by. Thank you

  8. James was my professor at the U of A while I completed my B of A in Native Studies back in 2005 to 2009 – I really enjoyed his classes and our conversations – he was a great mentor and will be missed – my condolences to the family

  9. I had the pleasure of knowing James for more than 20 years and appreciate his important scholarship and also his influence in the development of future Indigenous researchers and academics at the University of Alberta. He authored an essay for me for the Frontier of Patriotism: Alberta and the First World War. He will be sorely missed not only by his family and friends but also academic historians and educators. My condolences to his beloved family.

  10. I had the honor to have known Dr. James Dempsey in my classes in Native Studies. James was an exceptional teacher; I learned a lot in his classes about the importance of understanding that treaties are not all the same, and that there are historical treaties and modern day treaties. I learned that the Indian Act itself
    directed much of the affairs of First Nations’ bands in Canada. And though, the the Indian Act changed in 1951; it still has agency over most Indian Bands.
    James had a way of making a student think; he would ask us what we thought.
    He was a patient marker; and would encourage a student to re-submit and even though, this meant more work for him; that was how he was; generous in his comments and time. He would come into a class; briefcase in hand smiling and most often in a signature ball cap and had a way of putting all the students at ease. Sometimes, he would ask if anyone caught the most recent game on TV, and then, when he had every ones’ engagement then he’d turn to the business of teaching. After I graduated in 2012; I was still interested in a topic of one of my papers; James added in his comments without any hesitation. That was James; above all; generous and humble; eager to share his knowledge. It was and remains; a great honor to have known Dr. James Dempsey.
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