Renowned Indigenous Counselor and Builder of Bridges: Kathleen Lickers receives 2018 Law Society Medal Toronto

Posted: 05/15/2018

Kathleen LickersKathleen Lickers: Called to the Bar in 1995, Kathleen Lickers, a Seneca from Six Nations of the Grand River, is widely recognized for her work in Indigenous affairs. She has served on the board of the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada and has been described by other Indigenous leaders as a role model for Indigenous youth.

Ms. Lickers is renowned for her expert counsel and as an accomplished negotiator between Indigenous agencies, First Nation governments and federal and provincial ministries. She is currently Co-Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Group to the Law Society of Ontario and is frequently sought after for her skilful mediating in multi-party, multi-table complex negotiations.

What does this award mean to you?

“I am in awe really, that the profession would take a moment to say ‘we see you, we acknowledge you.’ Nya:weh (thank you). We have a teaching in my community: a stick on its own is easily broken but when bundled with others is strengthened. I am one legal professional and there are many that strengthen me.”

The seventh of eight children, Ms. Lickers was raised in her community of Six Nations of the Grand River. Before completing her BA degree from the University of Western Ontario, she knew that she wanted to make a positive contribution to her community. Growing up aware of prejudice and stereotypes borne out of ignorance, she was also profoundly aware of injustices.

Pursuing a law degree and becoming a lawyer would, at a minimum, provide her with the skills and tools to make a positive difference; it would also cultivate and ignite what she is most passionate about: building bridges.

For Ms. Lickers, experience reveals that when the will of one bends fully to that of another, only resentment results. The harder path requires a mutual search for better outcomes for both; it requires that each party be willing to genuinely understand the issues and concerns of the other side, to not only listen, but to comprehend.

While she has been practicing law for nearly 25 years, Kathleen doesn’t believe that she has yet experienced her “biggest achievement.” Blessed with many experiences throughout her career, starting as Associate and then Commission Counsel to the federal inquiry body, the Indian Specific Claims Commission, created in 1991, the Commission embodied a consensus that emerged between First Nations and the federal government and remained the only post-Oka institutional improvement in Canada to address outstanding, specific claims until 2008.

Canadian jurisprudence has today recognized what the Indian Claims Commission understood at the time of its creation: the oral history of a First Nations related to its claim is an important element of any claims process.

One of the enduring principles of the Commission was its reliance on community members to complete and provide balance to the documentary record available to the parties. As Counsel, Ms. Lickers was responsible to ensure the respectful and fair treatment of each and every First Nations witness coming before the commission. She would like to think that she carried that responsibility with trust and integrity.

Kathleen believes that First Nations are not only witnesses to their oral traditions but are the knowledge keepers of this profound legal order. She also believes this province’s legal profession has much to learn from the Indigenous community and specifically, from our legal traditions.

She explains that when Canada’s very first Indian Act was created in 1876, whole systems and peoples were displaced. The law made it incongruent to be both a registered Indian and a professional. To be a doctor, a lawyer or clergyman, the law required the Indian to enfranchise themselves. This prohibition operated for over 50 years and within seven years of its repeal, Kathleen’s grandfather Norman Lickers would enter law school to become one of the first registered Indians in Ontario to be called to the Bar at Osgoode Hall in 1938.

His career would intersect with history again when Canada introduced a new provision to the Indian Act in 1927, restricting Bands from paying for counsel to the very Joint House/Senate Committee that would oversee the repeal of this provision in 1951.

Sadly, her grandfather lost his license to practise that same year and never spoke to Kathleen about his profession. She was unaware of his legal career and he passed in 1987, without ever knowing that his granddaughter would follow in his footsteps. Kathleen’s dear friend and colleague, the late Honourable Jim Prentice, publicly remarked, “Once the harsh light of disclosure has been shone on a historical grievance and thereby exposed an inequity, justice is inevitable. Perhaps it will arrive quickly, perhaps it will arrive slowly, but justice is nonetheless inevitable, because democracy is governed by the rule of law, and there is eventually no place to hide.”

The Law Society Medal was established in 1985 to honour lawyers who have made significant contributions to the profession.

This year, 10 exceptional members of the legal professions will be honoured with Law Society Awards at a ceremony on May 23rd.