Legal Leaders for Diversity launch aboriginal education program

A Six Nations lawyer whose grandfather was the first registered Aboriginal lawyer in Ontario is challenging the in-house bar to ensure it is doing all it can to give indigenous people equal access to opportunities in the corporate sector.

Kathleen Lickers spoke passionately about her own family experience at the Legal Leaders for Diversity fifth annual meeting earlier this month in Toronto. A Six Nations of the Grand River lawyer in private practice, Lickers has acted as external adviser to the office of the auditor general of Canada and adviser to the Assembly of First Nations. 

Her grandfather Norman Edgar Lickers was the youngest child of six born on the Six Nations reserve. He was placed in a residential school at the age of seven — the Mohawk Institute, in Brantford, Ont. He excelled at school and was taken under the wing of a teacher who encouraged him in his studies. He stayed at the residential school for his entire education.

He went to high school at Brantford Collegiate Institute but remained in residence at the Mohawk Institute. When he completed high school, it was the power of the Indian Agent to approve a registered Indian’s capacity to go on to post-secondary education.

The Indian agent approved and the elder Lickers applied to the University of Western Ontario, where he earned a degree in economics and political science.  From there he went on to Osgoode Law School in 1934 and was called to the bar in 1938.

At the time, legislation dictated that any Aboriginal person who sought professional education, such as a doctor, lawyer, or member of the clergy, would become “enfranchised” but would lose band membership under the Indian Act.

“Enfranchisement was the Canadian legal process whereby a person ceased to be an Indian within Canadian law and it carried with it the total loss of band membership, which meant that, practically speaking, a person could no longer hold property or reside within their community. For a large part of Canada’s history this was the law,” said Lickers.

“The law made it incongruent for a registered Indian to be both registered and a professional. To do so, the law required an Indian to deny themselves one part of their identity to embrace a profession. That law operated until 1927,” she said.

Within seven years of that law being repealed, Norman Edgar Lickers, would enter law school and become the first “fully registered Indian in Ontario” to be called to the bar in 1938. In 1948, he became Crown counsel to a joint House-Senate examination of the Indian Act.

Lickers said she didn’t know the story of her grandfather until she was in her third year of law school. He had died during her last year of high school. In 1959, he had been disbarred, accused of misappropriation of funds and lost his lience after a rather abbreviated disciplinary hearing.

“Because of the shame of losing that licence, my family never spoke about my grandfather’s legal career,” she said. “He never spoke to me about his legal career.”

In a conversation with her mother during her 3L, Lickers’ mother told her the story of her grandfather.

Lickers said her mother told her: “I’m telling you this because while he lost his licence, having survived the residential school experience, gaining the law degree, serving in the practice of law, becoming disbarred, returning back to the reserve — he never let any one of those life experiences define him. What he chose to do in his later years was take the same skills and abilities and transform the Mohawk Institute. He turned it into a cultural education centre, and that’s what it is today.”

Lickers said much of what affects indigenous people in Canada today isn’t the “grand overtures of law anymore, it’s the subtleness of policy and decision making that reflects an attitude that diminishes.”

“I challenge you, as general counsel, to examine what are your policies are,” she said.

To aid in making that happen, Ken Fredeen, general counsel for Deloitte, announced LLD is launching a continuing legal education module in partnership with InHouse’s parent company Thomson Reuters, under the direction of Jeffery Hewitt of the Rama Band First Nation, to address the issue of reconciliation with First Nations.

Simon Fish, executive vice president and general counsel at BMO, spoke about the role business can have in investing in Canada’s First Nations.

The Truth and Reconciliation commission issued 94 calls to action. In his remarks, Fish focused on a call to action for the corporate sector in Canada.

The TRC calls on Canadian business to “adopt the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples as a reconciliation framework and to apply its principles, norms and standards to corporate policy and core operational activities involving indigenous peoples and their lands and resources.”

That includes three steps:
•    Commit to meaningful consultation, building respect for relationships, obtaining free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples before proceeding with economic development projects.
•    Ensure that aboriginal peoples have fair access to jobs, training, and education opportunities in the corporate sector, and that aboriginal communities gain long-term sustainable developments from economic development projects.
•    Provide education for management and staff on the history of Aboriginal peoples including the history and legacy of residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, indigenous law, and Aboriginal-Crown relations.

“These are important recommendations and ones we in the business community should strive to adopt,” said Fish. “As is true with so many things in this world it makes sense, not only because it is the right moral decision, but it is the right business decision,” said Fish.

Fish said aboriginal banking at BMO has become “big business.”

“Our book is currently somewhere around $3.5 billion. It is one of our fastest growing books — nearly 20-per-cent growth per annum,” he said. “The truth about aboriginal banking is not only is it a good investment, it’s one of our best investments. Building on strong relationships with our First Nations communities is part of what the TRC calls the business community to do. Working with our First Nations community is a long-term investment. To succeed, you need to think about consultation and providing employment. We should be thinking about sharing economic benefit.”

Recent articles & video

First Nation's land entitlement claim statute-barred, but SCC finds treaty breach by Crown

Five firms dominating M&A activity in Canada in recent years

Ontario Superior Court upholds jurisdiction in class action suit against crypto platform Coinbase

BC Supreme Court dismisses shopping mall slip and fall case due to inexcusable delay

Saskatchewan Court of Appeal halts arbitration in pension plan dispute

Ontario Superior Court asserts jurisdiction in child custody dispute

Most Read Articles

ESG-related legal risk is on the rise, says KPMG's Conor Chell

Roundup of law firm hires, promotions, departures: April 8 2024 update

Why this documentarian profiled elder rights advocate Melissa Miller in Hot Docs film Stolen Time

BC Supreme Court clarifies the scope of solicitor-client privilege in estate administration