James was born in 1947 and is from Kitchenuhmaykoosib Inninuwug (Big Trout Lake), in Northwestern Ontario. For the first nine years of his life, he lived with his family on their trap line. At nine years of age, he contracted tuberculosis and was sent to a hospital in what is now Thunder Bay for 22 months. It was here that he learned to speak English, his first language being Anishinabe. James began his career in education and communications, playing a leadership role in the creation of the Wawatay Native Communications Society and continuing his involvement in Anishinabe communications by working for the Northern Native Broadcast Access Program in the Department of Secretary of State from 1984 to 1988. Between 1988 and 2000 James was the Deputy Grand Chief of Nishnawbe-Aski Nation (NAN) where he was responsible for the Health and Social Services portfolio. Since 2001, he has been the Executive Director of the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority. James and his late wife, Joanne Wetelainen, have one son, Kelvin. James also has an elder son, Spencer Morris who lives in Muskrat Dam with his wife Amanda and their children Dakota, Julia, John George and Niedra.