#365 Indigenous: Delia Opekokew
Cree lawyer and writer Delia Opekokew is from Canoe Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan, Canada. A residential school survivor, she blazed a trail as the first First Nations lawyer to ever be admitted to the bar association in Ontario and in Saskatchewan. Fresh out of law school she was a partner at Zlotkin & Opekokew, where she practiced civil and family law until becoming legal counsel for the Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations.
Opekokew represented the family and estate of Anthony O’Brien “Dudley” George, the Indigenous activist shot and killed by police at Ipperwash Provincial Park in 1995, in what was known as the Ipperwash Crisis. She was also an advocate for Indigenous veterans, fighting for their rights to benefits, education and land ownership.
While launching a political career – Opekokew was the first woman to run for the Grand Chief of the Assembly of First Nations – she continued to practice law with a specialization in Indigenous treaty rights and Aboriginal law, representing her own Canoe Lake Cree Peoples in their successful land claim. She became an adjudicator with the Indian Residential Schools Adjudication Process (IRSAP), and served as one of the vice-presidents of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. She was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Law Society of Ontario, and was designated as Indigenous Peoples’ Counsel by the Indigenous Bar Association.
Delia authored a book that outlined the history of treaty and Indigenous rights within Canada. “The First Nations, Indians in the Community of Man” was a landmark publication and is still in use at universities across Canada.
According to Opekokew, “It’s absolutely important for Indigenous people to have Indigenous representation.”
Opekokew has received many awards, including The Aboriginal Achievement Award, Women’s Law Association of Ontario President’s Award, Law Society of Ontario Medal and Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations Lifetime Achievement Award.