Dene lawyer becomes Law Society of Manitoba’s 1st Indigenous vice-president

A Winnipeg lawyer has become the first Indigenous vice-president of the Law Society of Manitoba.

Sacha Paul, a lawyer with Thompson Dorfman Sweatman, says he wants to use his new position to bring more Indigenous people into the law field.

“My hope is that there will be an increased interest amongst Indigenous people to consider law as an attractive career option,” Paul told CBC’s Weekend Morning Show host Bruce Ladan on Sunday.

The news means next year, Paul — who is a member of English River First Nation, a Dene community in northern Saskatchewan — will move on to also become the society’s first Indigenous vice-president. 

For him, the dream of becoming a lawyer began as his father’s.

However, when the elder Paul suffered a broken leg that left him unable to finish the program in what’s now known as the University of Saskatchewan’s Indigenous law centre, he passed that passion along to his son.

“He really saw law as a vehicle for positive social change,” Paul said.

That passion came despite his father seeing at a young age the negative effects the law often had on Indigenous people, he says.

When Paul’s father was only six or seven years old, he was forced to attend the Beauval Indian Residential School in Saskatchewan.

Years later, both Paul’s parents went on to become teachers, jobs that eventually brought their family to communities across Manitoba, including Pukatawagan and Norway House.

It also brought them to Hollow Water, where they lived when Paul’s father was able to get government funding to send his nine-year-old son to boarding school, St. John’s-Ravenscourt School in Winnipeg.

It was a bit of a culture shock to move from the Anishinaabe community to the private school, Paul recalls.

But even so far away from his family, he sats his father’s influence on him — which manifested as a conviction that the law could benefit Indigenous people — persisted.

“He saw the possibilities there,” Paul said.

“Perhaps because of the fact that he was a teacher at heart, [he saw] that if only people knew more about Indigenous people, you could see how law can change and … fix itself and not visit the same harms that were done to him and so many others like him.”

His father also made a point to highlight Indigenous lawyers to his son, including former senator Murray Sinclair and treaty commissioner Loretta Ross.

“He took the time to say, ‘Look at this person. This person came from here and you can do this as well,'” Paul said.

It’s the kind of inspiration he says he now wants to bring to other Indigenous people across the province. 

Paul says the process has already begun, with the law society tracking how many members of the bar are Indigenous.

However, it will also need to include things such as the University of Manitoba’s Robson Hall faculty of law making a greater effort to increase recruitment of Indigenous people.

And while he knows it will take some time, Paul says he believes the change can happen.

“The law, when it comes to Indigenous people, has been in many instances negative,” he said, “and I can understand the choice, why some people would say, ‘I don’t want to be a part of that.’

“But I do believe that there are some who will think, just as my father did and does, that if you get the right people in the right spots you can change the law for the better.”

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