Mi'kmaq articled clerk being called to the bar, believed to be a P.E.I. first

·3 min read
'You can give people hope and inspire them to be what they need to be and what they want to be. That's where I see myself right now,' says Michael Sima.  (Submitted by Michael Sima - image credit)
'You can give people hope and inspire them to be what they need to be and what they want to be. That's where I see myself right now,' says Michael Sima. (Submitted by Michael Sima - image credit)

A Mi'kmaq articled clerk is being called to the bar on P.E.I. next week, and he's believed to be the first Mi'kmaq and Indigenous person openly identified to be called to the bar on the Island.

Michael Sima has been working with Pamela Large-Moran (PLM) Law and says his bar call on Tuesday will be special, in a way that will recognize his Mi'kmaq heritage.

There will be smudging, a prayer, two oaths, including an Indigenous one, as well as the eagle feather teaching.

"As the first Indigenous person, it is overwhelming," he said. "I will be wearing an Indigenous medallion and ribbon shirt, which has never been done before, over the traditional court robe."

Sima is not the first lawyer ever from Lennox Island; band member Cathy Benton was called to the bar in Nova Scotia. She eventually became Nova Scotia's first female Mi'kmaq judge and is based in Bridgewater, N.S.

'I wanted to remedy this situation'

He was motivated to become a lawyer because of the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in Canadian prisons.

"I wanted to remedy this situation by taking into consideration things like residential schools, the Sixties Scoop, the child and welfare system, other discriminatory actions and its impacts that it's had on us," he said.

Systematic and institutionalized racism has been a challenge, he said, and some school officials deterred him from attending university.

It's going to take a while for it to all sink in. It's going to be emotional. — Michael Sima

"I found it difficult to get an articling position when I was in Ontario. I had some struggles with my own learning disability and, you know, things started changing when I came back to the Maritimes," he said.

"With the support of the Native Council of P.E.I. and a learning disability specialist here and also the Learning Disabilities Association of P.E.I., I actually ended up succeeding on my bar exam so I will become a lawyer here."

'You can give people hope'

Sima said he may be the first Mi'kmaq and Indigenous person openly identified to be a lawyer on P.E.I., but he hopes many more will be called to the bar in the years ahead.

One of his first goals is to "champion truth and reconciliation right here on P.E.I."

He's worked with the UPEI Student Union to create the Straight Arrow Truth and Reconciliation Awards, which provides $1,000 to an Indigenous person and $1,000 for an ally who promotes reconciliation in the province.

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Weather permitting, the bar will feature drummers outside and Island performer Tara MacLean will be singing the reconciliation song Beneath the Path of Crows.

Traditionally, Sima said, the court will call your name to the bar aloud three times. But during this bar call, the court will call his name once, then Sen. Brian Francis will call his name, then elder Georgina Knockwood Crane will call his name in Mi'kmaq.

"It's going to take a while for it to all sink in. It's going to be emotional," he said. "But there's also inspirational periods where you can make a change and be that role model as well … you can give people hope and inspire them to be what they need to be and what they want to be. That's where I see myself right now."

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