Wilson-Raybould's testimony empowering to young Indigenous women, students say

Young Indigenous women on track to become the politicians, lawyers and leaders of tomorrow say Canada's former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's thunderous testimony in Ottawa this week sets a precedent that fills them with pride and encouragement.

Former justice minister told House of Commons of pressure, threats she alleges came from senior PMO officials

University of Manitoba students Ashley Daniels, Alannah McKay and Kayla Lariviere all took away a sense of encouragement and pride from Jody Wilson-Raybould's testimony on Wednesday in Ottawa. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Young Indigenous women on track to become the politicians, lawyers and leaders of tomorrow say Canada's former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's thunderous testimony in Ottawa this week sets a precedent that empowers and fills them with pride.

"She talked very powerfully and stood her ground and let everyone know that this wasn't for herself or personal gain," said Alannah McKay, president of the University of Manitoba Indigenous Students' Association, from Berens River First Nation, Man., and Muskrat Dam First Nation, Ont.

On Wednesday, Wilson-Raybould, a member of the We Wai Kai Nation in B.C., gave her side of the SNC-Lavalin affair in hours-long testimony before the House of Commons.

Among many claims, she alleged she faced pressure and "veiled threats" from senior officials with the Prime Minister's Office to reach an agreement to help the engineering firm dodge criminal prosecution.

Jody Wilson-Raybould appears at the House of Commons justice committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

SNC-Lavalin is alleged to have used bribery to secure government contracts with Libya. While minister of justice, Wilson-Raybould says there was a calculated campaign to push her to negotiate a deferred prosecution agreement with the company so it could avoid going to trial.

She says it was on the heels of that campaign and her refusal to budge on the issue that she was demoted to minister of veterans affairs, followed shortly by her resignation from cabinet. She remains a Member of Parliament for the Liberals.

'Role model to me'

Native studies major Ashley Daniels, youth chief for the Southern Chiefs' Organization, said Wilson-Raybould sent a message.

She's calling out that hypocrisy.- Alyssa Bird

"I grew up in Brandon so there was a lot of non-Indigenous people, so when I see an Indigenous woman empowered and being strong and resilient … that's a role model to me personally," said Daniels, who is from Swan Lake First Nation

"That means we can be there, we can break barriers, we can sit in that position and even leave that position and publicly announce it and the reasons why."

Systems 'not made for us'

For criminology and native studies major Kayla Lariviere, seeing Wilson-Raybould reach the heights she has in the Canadian government is encouraging.

"For Indigenous people, we know that these systems — whether it's university or politics — were not made for us," said Lariviere, who is Métis and Filipino. "So to see an Indigenous person hold such a high position like Jody had, and to walk away from that, is very empowering."

Alyssa Bird is a student in the faculty of law at the University of Manitoba. (Marina von Stackelberg/CBC)

Alyssa Bird, whose family is from Peguis First Nation, echoed Lariviere's point about feeling at odds with a government and legal system she says don't always represent the interests of Indigenous communities.

'Code of ethics'

"The rule of law has been used negatively towards Indigenous people for years and still continues to be, and has a negative impact on Indigenous peoples," said the third-year U of M law student.

"One of the things I find most striking and most courageous about Jody Wilson-Raybould's statements is that she's calling out that hypocrisy of the rule of law. When the narrative is flipped and that rule of law is no longer working for a certain political party, that there was encouragement to try and find loopholes around that."

Bird is immersed in the world of law daily through her school work, and she said it was nice to see a First Nation woman remind the government the law applies to them, too.

"One of the things that we're taught here in law school is how important your professional responsibility is and how important it is for people in the legal profession to follow their code of ethics," she said.

Bird said having Wilson-Raybould in the highest justice position in Canada was already a major step for Indigenous women. She, Lariviere, McKay, Daniels and other future leaders will be watching closely to see what steps Wilson-Raybould takes next.

U of M students laud Wilson-Raybould's 'code of ethics,' example she set for young Indigenous leaders

3 years ago
Duration 1:52
These Indigenous women who attend the University of Manitoba draw strength from former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould's testimony in the House of Commons this week.

With files from Marina von Stackelberg and John Paul Tasker