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ILSA Speaker Series: Honourable Madam Justice Michelle O'Bonsawin live at the UofA today!

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,


Friday, March 10th is the last day of the Indigenous Law Students’ Association 2023 Speaker Series. What an honour it is to write about today's keynote speaker, Honourable Madam Justice Michelle O'Bonsawin. Justice O'Bonsawin is joining us today live in Edmonton to talk about becoming Canada’s first Indigenous person to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada and her journey to get there. Justice O’Bonsawin’s talk will begin at noon in Room 231/237 on the second floor of the University of Alberta's Faculty of Law (111-89 Ave); please access using the East doors. Registered guests can begin lining up for seating and lunch at 11:45 am. Tickets are sold out for today's event, but there is limited stand-by seating, or you can join the discussion via zoom by following this link.


Michelle O'Bonsawin. Image provided by Maclean.ca

As an Abenaki member of Québec's Odanak First Nation, Justice O’Bonsawin is the first Indigenous person appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada. Justice O’Bonsawain arrived at the Supreme Court in September 2022, after spending five years as a judge at the Ontario Supreme Court of Justice in Ottawa, where she was also the first Indigenous judge.


Growing up as a bilingual Franco-Ontarian, in Hanmer, Ontario, Justice O’Bonsawin always knew that she wanted to be a lawyer. She says the feeling was innate despite having no exposure to adults in the legal field outside of Matlock.[1] In her numerous interviews, she has recalled the adversity her family faced living off reserve, noting that the lack of respect shown to her parents and family affected her growing up.[2] These experiences taught her “that while discrimination is an ongoing reality in Canada,” her abilities will allow her to contribute to Canada to help us “become a more inclusive society, not to mention one that is fair and just for all.”[3]


She attended law school at the University of Ottawa, received her LLM from Osgoode, and her doctorate from the University of Ottawa, writing her thesis on the Gladue principles.[4] Her work experience includes teaching Indigenous Law at the University of Ottawa common law program and providing legal counsel to the RCMP, Canada Post, and the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group.[5]


Justice O’Bonsawin is quick to note that while her cultural background is important, she is a Judge first and an “Indigenous person and a mother and a Franco-Ontarian afterward.”[6] She shares that her lived experience brings not only an Indigenous perspective but also her lived experience working in mental health, labour, employment and human rights.[7] While she will be the first to point out that she is only one voice at the table, she is still there, and she can use that voice to help create a judicial system that is inclusive and compassionate for First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.[8]


She hopes that her story of a young girl growing up in a small rural community who was told more than once that she could never be a lawyer will inspire young Canadians, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to work hard so they too can achieve their dreams.


And on that note, I would also like to take a moment to recognize a previous Reconcili-ACTION YEG writer, Casey Caines. Casey is a Cree and Dene woman, mother of two young girls, an advocate from Fort Nelson First Nation on Treaty 8 Territory, and a third-year law student at the University of Alberta.[9] Casey will be heading to the Supreme Court of Canada in 2024 to clerk with Justice O'Bonsawin. Everyone, past and present, at Reconcili-ACTION YEG could not be more excited and proud of our absolutely amazing friend as she begins her next journey under Justice O’Bansawin’s guidance.


We hope to see you this afternoon!

Until next time,

Team Reconcili-ACTION YEG

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[1] “The Honourable Michelle O'Bonsawin” (last modified 23 January 2023), online: Supreme Court of Canada <www.scc-csc.ca/judges-juges/bio-eng.aspx?id=michelle-obonsawin>. [2] Tom Sasvari, “Michelle O’Bonsawin named First Indigenous Supreme Court Justice” The Manitoulin Express (31 August 2022) online: <www.manitoulin.com/michelle-obonsawin-named-first-indigenous-supreme-court-justice/> [Sasvari]. [3] Ibid. [4] “The Honourable Michelle O’Bonsawin’s Questionnaire” (last modified 19 August 2021), online: Office of the Commissioner for Federal Judicial Affairs Canada <www.fja.gc.ca/scc-csc/2022/nominee-candidat-eng.html>. [5] “Michelle O’Bansawin” (retrieved on 9 March 2023), online: uOttawa <www.uottawa.ca/faculty-law/llmphd/people/michelle-obonsawin>. [6] Sasvar, supra note 2. [7] Ibid. [8] Ibid. [9] “Meet the Recipient Of Our 2022 Indigenous Law Student Scholarship!” (29 September 2022), online: First People Law <www.firstpeopleslaw.com/public-education/blog/meet-the-recipient-of-our-2022-indigenous-law-student-scholarship>.

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