This Is What A Lawyer Looks Like: Tracey O'Donnell, Chief Negotiator, Anishinabek Nation Education System

  • September 25, 2020
  • Nabila N. Khan, Associate Lawyer, Ryan Edmonds Workplace Counsel

[Note: This piece was originally published at]

Tell us about yourself.

I am an Anishinabekwe of Red Rock Indian Band, about 100 km north and east of Thunder Bay, Ontario. I am the proud mother of three children aged 19, 16 and 13. My practice focusses on First Nation self-government and Indigenous community development, specifically in the areas of negotiations with federal and provincial governments, First Nation constitution and law development, corporate law, employment law, among other areas. I went to Osgoode Hall Law School, York University from 1990 to 1993. After law school, I articled at Weir and Foulds in downtown Toronto. For the first few years after my call to the bar, I worked as an associate lawyer at the same firm. I appreciate the opportunity that was provided to me to learn while working for such a well-regarded and prestigious law firm. One of the highlights during my years of practice is that I argued on behalf of the Native Women’s Association of Canada and LEAF as intervenors in the first Indian residential school case that reached the Supreme Court of Canada - Blackwater v. Plint. I was an elected Bencher of the Law Society of Upper Canada, now the Law Society of Ontario, from 2003 to 2007 – the first Indigenous woman elected since the Law Society was founded in 1797.

Why did you choose to become a lawyer?

When I was completing my undergraduate degree at Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, I took a course with a visiting professor who was a lawyer from Kenya. He suggested that I should apply to law school. Before meeting this professor, I had never even considered a career in law. With his encouragement, I decided to apply to law school.

What is your favourite part about being a lawyer?

I work with First Nations and Indigenous community-based organizations across Canada. My favourite part of my work is sharing the knowledge and experiences I have with others to support the achievement of their vision of their own community or organization. I not only provide legal services, I also teach. For the past several years I have worked for the Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta as co-faculty in an Indigenous Leadership Program called Leading Teams: Governance for Indigenous Councils and Boards. I also worked for the Centre for Indigenous Sovereignty several years ago to develop a series of workshops to support First Nations governance and constitution development.