Championing Indigenous People and Nations: John Andrew Olthuis
John Andrew Olthuis: Called to the Ontario Bar in 1987, the Newfoundland and Labrador Bar in 2015 and the Alberta Bar in 1965, John Olthuis has spent over 40 years working with First Nations across Canada for recognition and implementation of their Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. He has worked diligently to find innovative ways to secure cultural and habitat protection for First Nations and their traditional territories. Mr. Olthuis’ work set precedents for other advocates to follow as he has been blazing a trail to assert Indigenous rights within the Canadian legal system and recognition of Indigenous legal systems. He also works with Indigenous communities to secure economic benefits from development activities that they have consented to in their traditional territories. In 2000, John Olthuis co-founded the law firm Olthuis Kleer Townshend LLP, presently the largest law firm in Canada working predominantly for Indigenous communities.
What does this award mean to you?
“I am humbled and honoured to receive the Law Society Medal as I hope it will bring more attention to the already laudable efforts of the Law Society of Ontario; to promote and implement its Statement of Principles for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, which includes Reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples and positive action in response to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”
As a young adult, John felt a strong calling to be a member of a profession in which he could assist minority and marginalized peoples in their quest for recognition, justice and equality. For this reason he entered the law profession in Alberta in 1965.
Throughout his over 40 year career, his biggest achievement came when he was honoured to be a member of the Assembly of First Nations (AFN) legal team that worked with First Nations leaders across Canada for the inclusion of s.35 in Canada’s Constitution Act 1982, which recognizes and affirms Aboriginal and Treaty Rights. He was also honoured to be a member of the AFN legal team that worked with First Nations leaders in 1992, negotiating the Charlottetown Accord with Canada and the provinces.
When asked what he is most passionate about, John replies that he has been and continues to be enthusiastic and committed to his work with Indigenous people and Nations to achieve their long-denied goal of Political, Social and Economic Self Determination.
As for what the future holds for the legal profession, John sees it as promising given that so many young lawyers are committed to implementing the Law Society of Ontario Statement of Principles of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.
Receiving the Law Society Medal inspires John to continue to work with Indigenous people and Nations for Recognition and the full implementation of their s.35 Constitutional rights, and he hopes that his work will inspire other lawyers and all Canadians to get engaged.
The Law Society Medal was established in 1985 as an honour to be awarded to lawyers who have made significant contributions to the profession. Award recipients are chosen for their outstanding service within the profession, whether in the area of practice or in the academic sphere, or in some other professional capacity — either over a long-term, or for a single outstanding act of service.
This year, 10 exceptional members of the legal professions will be honoured with Law Society awards at a ceremony on May 23rd.