Advancing the Goal of Reconciliation: Professor Jeffery Hewitt Receives 2019 Law Society Medal

Posted: 05/17/2019

Professor Jeffery HewittCalled to the Bar in 1998, Jeffery Hewitt (mixed descent Cree) is an exemplary role model as an academic, advocate and leader.

Jeffery is an Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law, and has served as General Counsel to the Rama First Nation. He has dedicated his professional academic career, which has focused on Indigenous legal orders and governance, constitutional and administrative law and human rights and remedies, to advancing the goal of reconciliation. Jeffery provides invaluable inspiration on countless Indigenous legal initiatives centered on education and Indigenous justice.

As past President of the Indigenous Bar Association, he is a role model for Indigenous advocates and has helped to build a space for Indigenous legal traditions. Through his work, Jeffery has demonstrated that Cree and Anishinabek legal traditions strengthen rather than diminish the relationship with Ontario’s legal system.

Jeffery is one of this year’s recipients of the Law Society Medal which is awarded to Ontario lawyers who have made a significant contribution to the profession.

What does this award mean to you?

I am still figuring this out. This award is unexpected and I am grateful for all of those who have been developing me throughout my career because I have not done this alone. It feels like a time when community based work and action is being noticed by the legal profession, which I hope leads to further and ongoing engagement within the profession with Indigenous laws as law.

What drives you (or has driven you) in your legal career?

I have never felt as sure of law as a career path as many of my colleagues. Yet, in the moments when I am most unsure, someone comes along at the right time – a law professor who said something in a lecture that drew me further in and convinced me to stay; a mentor who launched a claim and succeeded in shaping the law; a friend or colleague who articulated a feeling or question that I did not have the words for until I heard them speak; an Elder, knowledge keeper or leader who shares an experience or story; a community member who defies oppression with grace and showcases a kind of power that makes me marvel; a family member who reminds me about what it means to love and be loved, and that this work is worth it. Overarching all of these moments, I especially acknowledge that I would not be here without the contributions of many women, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, who have taken time to teach me. In sum, there has always been someone who stands out for me at the moments when I don’t even always know I’m looking for them. So, as sentimental as it may sound, it is true: what drives me (or what moves me forward), are people – the human contributions to law and the profession.

What piece of advice do you have for new legal professionals beginning their career?

From my beginnings, I focused my career on community and let them determine where I was needed and what kind of legal work that meant I would be doing versus specializing. This led me to Rama First Nation as General Counsel – a position I did not know existed in law school but has been deeply rewarding work with community members, leaders, executives, staff, and many others. It has subsequently led me into academia where I am privileged to think and write about law, as well as teach the next generation of legal professionals. Though this worked for me, sometimes specializing is what works for others. I think it is vital to find your space within this profession – even if some days it feels like you are the only one in it. While it might feel like simple advice, it has been true for me: find your space and do the kind of work you enjoy. This does not mean it will always be easy. Sometimes what we like to do the most in law can be the hardest on us but worth it nonetheless.

The Law Society Medal is given for outstanding service within the profession, whether in the area of practice, in the academic sphere, or in some other professional capacity where the service is in accordance with the highest ideals of the legal profession. It may be awarded for devotion to professional duties over a long term or for a single outstanding act of service.

This year, 12 outstanding members of the legal professions will be honoured with Law Society awards on May 22nd.