By Chevi Rabbit, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Amidst the intricacies of the legal world, Andrea Menard emerges as a pioneering Métis legal luminary, actively propelling transformative change rather than being a mere cog in the system. Andrea has earned her place among the Top 5 Most Influential Lawyers of 2023, as recognized by CIO Times, and also featured among the Top 25 Most Influential Lawyers of 2022 according to Canadian Lawyer Magazine. She’s the author of “Reflections on Allyship,” a book published in 2023 by Turtle Island: Shadow of the Law Publications.
With a distinguished academic background encompassing an LL.B, LL.M, and ongoing Ph.D. studies, Andrea occupies a leading role in reshaping the landscape of Canadian law. In an exclusive interview with Alberta Native News, Andrea shares her compelling vision for the future of Canadian law.
Facing the challenges of the legal profession, Andrea recognized the need to rise above the daily grind and critically assess law practice. Her motivation? To enhance legal systems, especially for Indigenous communities navigating complex legal webs, and to create a brighter path for Indigenous lawyers.
“I aimed to rise above and critically examine the practice of law,” she emphasizes, underlining her commitment to improving Canadian Law.
One of Andrea’s notable contributions is the Indigenous Lawyers Forum, a catalyst for change. Co-chaired and co-founded by her, this national initiative brings Indigenous law students, lawyers, articling students, and graduate students to confidential monthly gatherings over tea and bannock. These secure spaces encourage networking and deep discussions on crucial topics like decolonization and indigenization of the legal profession.
“Our goal is to strengthen our presence within the legal profession,” Andrea emphasizes. This forum is more than a casual meetup; it’s a platform amplifying the voices of Indigenous legal professionals, advocating for a more inclusive legal landscape.
But Andrea’s dedication goes beyond networking; it translates into practical solutions. She established Indigenous Connect, a nonprofit organization bridging the gap between Indigenous people and legal professionals within the legal system. “Many feel lost,” Andrea notes, and her organization provides crucial support.
“I created Indigenous Connect to connect them with lawyers or legal professionals who can address their concerns,” she explains. This initiative empowers Indigenous communities to navigate the legal system while preserving their cultural and legal traditions, contributing to a more equitable legal landscape.
Andrea’s journey encompasses active advocacy, including roles in various government committees, where she advocates for indigenization and decolonization. Her involvement in committees like the Restorative Justice Committee led to the launch of a Restorative Justice Pilot Project across Alberta called, The Honourable Beverley Browne – Wîyasôw Iskweêw – Restorative Justice Committee Pilot Project.
The Restorative Justice of Alberta pilot project states, “For the criminal pilot project, the Committee has agreed upon a set of referral guidelines to provide some context to justice system participants about what restorative justice is, some of its benefits, and how referrals can be made. In a nutshell, any individual charged with a criminal offence who accepts responsibility for the harm caused, may be eligible for a referral to a restorative justice process. This could occur at any point from post-charge to pre-sentencing.”
Her message is clear: Indigenous voices are indispensable in reshaping legal processes. “This is how you go about this restorative justice pilot project,” she proclaims. Andrea’s tireless efforts within formal structures contribute to her vision of a more equitable legal system.
For Menard, it’s about more than just tweaking legal processes; it’s a comprehensive transformation that extends to government, legal aid, and the Law Society.
“We’re nurturing a new generation of Indigenous lawyers,” she declares. This wave aims to challenge the status quo and push for incorporating Indigenous Law into Canadian legal systems through a hybrid approach or a distinct Indigenous legal stream within Canada.
“I aspire for Canada to establish a third stream of representation within its governmental structure. This would be distinct from the Assembly of First Nations or the Métis National Council.”
Andrea Menard believes Canada can take inspiration from New Zealand’s innovative government representation.
“Much like the Maori representation in the New Zealand government, we envision a space where this third order has seats in the government, allowing for a more direct influence on decisions.”
“Currently, our involvement is more of a trickle-down effect, and often, when they do reach decision-makers, promises aren’t kept, and accountability is lacking.”
Another give back to the community is that a portion of the sales of her book is given to the Moose Hide Campaign. She co-authored the book with Marc Bhalla and it’s called, “Reflections on Allyship,” published in 2023. The book is a deeply personal account of their journeys towards improving Indigenous and non-Indigenous relations in Canada.
Andrea Menard’s tireless efforts, innovative initiatives, and advocacy work in the legal field are all part of a larger vision to create a more inclusive and equitable society where Indigenous perspectives and laws are respected, and where diversity is celebrated as a strength rather than a division.
For more in-depth information about the initiatives and the important topics she addresses, as well as to get involved or show your support, you can explore the following resources:
Indigenous Connect: Visit www.indigenousconnect.org to learn more about this nonprofit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between Indigenous communities and legal professionals within the legal system. You can find information on their programs, resources, and ways to contribute to their mission.
The Honourable Beverley Browne – Wîyasôw Iskweêw – Restorative Justice Committee Pilot Project: To delve deeper into the Restorative Justice Pilot Project across Alberta, including its goals, progress, and impact, visit www.rjalbertacourts.ca. This initiative is an essential part of Andrea Menard’s advocacy for a more equitable legal system.
The Moose Hide Campaign: Explore www.moosehidecampaign.ca to learn about their mission to end violence against Indigenous and non-Indigenous women and children and find out how you can support their cause, including through the purchase of Andrea Menard’s book, “Reflections on Allyship.”