Historic trip strengthens ties with First Nation communities

Posted: 04/01/2015

Nipissing First NationJanet Minor’s trip to the Nipissing First Nation today marks the first time a Law Society Treasurer has visited a First Nation territory to discuss access to justice with community leaders.

Treasurer Minor’s visit to the North Bay, Ont. area confirms the Law Society’s commitment to a renewed Aboriginal Initiatives Strategy and includes a meeting with Grand Council Chief of the Anishinabek Nation Patrick Wedaseh Madahbee, local Chief Marianna Couchie, counsellor Arnold May and senior staff members.

“It’s the right time to engage directly with First Nation, Métis and Inuit lawyers and paralegals,” Treasurer Minor said. “The Law Society acknowledges the unique access to justice needs of First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities.

“I believe that in order to best address these needs, it’s important to meet in person, to listen and to learn directly from those affected.

“In the spirit of reconciliation, we are working to build a common understanding.”

Also present at today’s meeting were Union of Ontario Indians Social Services director Adrienne Pelletier, as well as UOI political advisor Gary Dokis and UOI lawyers Fred Bellefeuille and Jenny Restoule.

Treasurer Minor was accompanied by Bencher Susan Hare whose leadership on Aboriginal issues at Convocation has been significant.

In addition to the Treasurer’s outreach initiatives, other Law Society officials are in the midst of connecting with First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities to foster a better understanding of its role as a regulator and of its complaints process.

The decision for Law Society officials to travel throughout Ontario to a number of communities is driven by the consultative process for the renewal of its Aboriginal Initiatives Strategy and also by its priority of facilitating access to justice for Ontarians.

Ongoing outreach

The Law Society’s leadership around a renewed Aboriginal strategy was first made explicit in November 2014 when Treasurer Minor began talks with First Nation chiefs, including:

  • Deputy Grand Council Chief of Anishinabek Nation Glen Hare
  • Chief of M’Chigeeng First Nation Joe Hare
  • Chief of Six Nations of the Grand River First Nation Ava Hill
  • Grand Council Chief of Anishinabek Nation Patrick Madahbee
  • Grand Chief of the Association of Iroquois and Allied Indians Gord Peters
  • Grand Chief of Nishnawbe-Aski Nation Harvey Yesno

In the same month, the Law Society co-hosted two events to celebrate achievements within the Aboriginal community.

A Nov. 20 reception, hosted at Osgoode Hall by the Law Foundation of Ontario, acknowledged the accomplishments of Kim Murray, who was recently appointed as the first assistant deputy attorney general for Aboriginal Justice.

A Nov. 18 dinner with the Mississaugas of New Credit First Nation and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission acknowledged five of the surviving First Nation torch runners from the 1967 Pan-American Games.

Outreach had its beginnings in 2000, when the Aboriginal Initiatives co-ordinator position was created and shortly after the establishment of the Treasurer’s Aboriginal Advisory Group, which later became known as Rotiio>tatiets.

Research geared toward understanding the experiences of First Nation, Métis and Inuit members of the Bar was initiated more than 10 years ago with the Aboriginal Bar Consultation Project.

A report profiling the demographic of the Bar followed in 2009.

Former Treasurer Thomas Conway engaged the Indigenous Bar Association, presenting at its 20th anniversary conference and visiting Thunder Bay, Ont. for the opening of the Bora Laskin Law Faculty at Lakehead University near the territory of the Fort William First Nation.

There, Conway met with Deputy Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Deputy Grand Chief Goyce Kakegamic, both of Nishnawbe-Aski Nation, as well as Gary Lipinski, president of the Métis Nation of Ontario, and other local leaders.

A discussion that came about in June 2014, when the Law Society hosted a roundtable in Toronto with more than 20 First Nation, Métis and Inuit lawyers and paralegals led to a vision statement for the Aboriginal Initiatives Strategy renewal process: ‘In its relationship with the Aboriginal legal profession, leadership and community, the Law Society should strive to be transparent, respectful, proactive and competent’.

A vision for the future

Through 2015, Law Society officials will meet with First Nations, Métis and Inuit governments, organizations and communities to understand the access to justice barriers they face.

The Law Society will continue to support events such as Aboriginal law career symposiums, which are being held this year at universities, including Lakehead, Ottawa, Windsor and York, as well as at Osgoode Hall.

Elsewhere, the public and members of Ontario’s legal profession are invited to attend an annual event held at Osgoode Hall in celebration of National Aboriginal History Month.

This year’s June 19 panel discussion and reception will be co-hosted by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Finally, responses from a soon-to-be-sent email survey will help Law Society officials gain insight about where the regulator can provide better support of First Nation, Metis and Inuit licensing candidates, lawyers and paralegals.

Distinctive issues among First Nation, Métis and Inuit licensees are also being acknowledged through the Law Society’s ongoing consultations around challenges facing racialized licensees and alternative business structures.

Getting involved

Treasurer Minor encourages legal professionals to be a part of the ongoing discussion around the Law Society’s Aboriginal Strategy.

“We’re keen to hear your perspective,” she said. “A wide range of information is available online. For those of you with any questions, please be in touch.”