Law Society to honour trailblazing advocate Delia Opekokew with honorary doctorate
The Law Society of Ontario will present a degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa (LLD) to distinguished Indigenous advocate Delia Opekokew, at its Call to the Bar ceremony in Toronto on September 25.
A member of the Canoe Lake Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, Ms. Opekokew was the first Indigenous woman to be called to the Bars of Ontario (1979), and Saskatchewan (1983). She practised family, criminal and First Nations law in Toronto as a partner in the firm of Zlotkin & Opekokew from 1979 to 1980, and as an associate in the firm of Blaney, McMurtry LLP from 1985 to 1990 in First Nations law.
Early in her legal career, Ms. Opekokew pressed for recognition of the survivors of Residential Schools, one of which she attended for several years. She was also the first woman to run for the leadership of the Assembly of First Nations.
She was counsel to the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations from 1980 to 1985. Since 1990, she has practised as a sole practitioner, specializing in Indian treaty rights and Aboriginal law. She was one of three commissioners appointed to inquire into the shooting death of Leo Lachance by self-proclaimed white supremacist, Carney Nerland.
Ms. Opekokew also initiated legal action in Ontario for the family and estate of Anthony O’Brien “Dudley” George, the Indigenous activist shot and killed by police at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995. The resulting public inquiry led to many reforms, including the creation of the first-ever Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs in Ontario, as well as important changes in policing approaches to First Nations settings.
Between 1998 and 2004, Ms. Opekokew litigated a case which led to a major financial settlement for First Nations war veterans who had been neglected after their return to Canada from serving abroad.
She was appointed from 2008-17 as a Deputy Chief Adjudicator on the Independent Assessment Process (IAP), Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement IRSSA. Prior to that, she was an adjudicator on the IAP IRSSA and was also an adjudicator under the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Process created by the Government of Canada (2004-09).
Widely recognized by her peers as a passionate advocate and trailblazer, Ms. Opekokew has received many awards, including the National Aboriginal Achievement Award (2009), the Women’s Law Association of Ontario President’s Award (2012), the Law Society Medal (2013) and the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations’ Saskatchewan First Nations Women’s Commission’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2016). She was designated in October 2004 as an Indigenous Peoples’ Counsel (IPC) by the Indigenous Bar Association.