Wendy Parkes, LL.B., a member of the OBA Aboriginal Law Section Executive and assistant professor at the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law, Lakehead University, interviews Caitlin Tolley, Algonquin Anishinaabe lawyer who works in MAG's Indigenous Justice Division.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up on my reserve in Kitigan Zibi. Kitigan Zibi is an Algonquin reserve located about 130 kilometers north of Ottawa. I graduated high school on reserve and then moved to the National Capital Region to pursue my post-secondary education.
Growing up on reserve, I gained a strong sense of my identity as an Algonquin Anishinaabe. Those teachings and values that I learned at a young age are instilled in me today. Indigenous law and traditional knowledge inform and guide my work as a lawyer.
What inspired you to go into the field of law?
While I was pursuing my undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa, I was volunteering on Indigenous youth leadership initiatives. At the time I was serving my community as an elected Band Councillor. I was also on the Assembly of First Nations National Youth Council.
Around this same time, the Idle No More Movement was taking place across Canada. I was inspired to pursue a law degree by the grassroots movement that stood for respecting Indigenous sovereignty, rights and recognition.
I knew that I wanted to pursue higher education and a law degree seemed like the best option for learning Canadian law and increasing my awareness and understanding of Aboriginal rights in Canada, as identified in the Constitution.
I recognize that there is a strong difference between Aboriginal and Indigenous rights. Aboriginal rights derive from colonial legal documents and case law that is rooted in the Canadian common law. Indigenous rights are inherent and collective rights that arise from and belong to each community and First Nation across the country.