An Indigenous woman from Saskatchewan has become the first lawyer from her home community.
Aly Bear, The Federation of Indigenous Sovereign Nations' (FSIN) third vice chief, is now the first ever lawyer to hail from Whitecap Dakota First Nation.
She signed the roll of law at the Saskatchewan Legislature earlier this week. She chose to wear her FSIN chief headdress and a red suit, and paint a red handprint over her mouth. She said this was her way of honouring her people while also inspiring others.
"I wanted to go in there wearing red to represent our people, to represent our missing and murdered," she said. "And I wanted to put that handprint on my face. I've never actually used the handprint before, but I've seen it done numerous times."
She said she has been working with a lot of families who have missing and murdered loved ones.
"I wanted to do that for them."
Bear said it is a "pretty big deal" to be the first lawyer from her First Nation, as it allows others to see themselves represented in similar spaces.
"Young girls, young people, First Nations people, to see themselves in these spaces and they can look at me and they can say 'if she can do it, I can do it too,'" she said. "It's just making room for more people to come through and to achieve their dreams and become lawyers and advocate for justice.
"I'm hoping that that will spark that flame with others."
Diversity needed in law, says professor
Jaime Lavallee is an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan college of law and is from Muskeg Lake Cree Nation.
She said Bear being the first from her First Nation may inspire others to do the same.
"When people see that first go through, it becomes a little easier for others to also imagine themselves doing that," she said. "It moves from imagination to actually doing."
Lavallee has been a professor since 2018 and said sees quite a few Indigenous people take her classes.
"There are more Indigenous lawyers," she said. "Which I think is definitely a good thing."
Lavallee said she is a big proponent of the idea that the law sector should have diverse representation in positions such as lawyers, judges and aids. This includes Indigenous people and other minorities as well, she said.
"If law helps reflect society it should be as close to proportional to our society as possible," she said. "[This will] actually make sure our legal system is working as effectively as possible."
Lavallee said Indigenous people might face different barriers than their non-Indigenous classmates when pursuing law, such as "not so rosy" family backgrounds and financial restrictions.
"Some First Nations [students] can get post-secondary [funding] but the amounts vary," she said, adding funding may also be limited for Métis students as well.
Lavallee said she has gone over a lot of First Nations post-secondary funding policies and most of them only offer funding for one degree. Becoming a lawyer takes multiple degrees, she said.
Bear said for her, becoming a lawyer was a huge accomplishment.
"I just felt like a weight lifted off my shoulders, like 'I'm here, I did it.' There's a lot of work that goes into becoming a lawyer," Bear said.
"There's an evolution happening, and evolution in the law especially when it comes to Indigenous people reclaiming our spaces and our power and our laws and implementing those, and I want people to honour and respect and give us that space as well."