Effort to decolonize law drives legal aid lawyer, staff in northern Quebec
Algonquin lawyer and Cree legal assistant serving clients in inland Cree communities
For the first time this spring, the legal aid office in Chibougamau, Que., was staffed by an Indigenous lawyer and an Indigenous legal assistant.
It's significant for Algonquin lawyer Fanny Wylde, who is from the community of Pikogan, Que., and speaks Algonquin. Wylde has been the lawyer at the Aide Juridique-Legal Aid Chibougamau since February 2020.
Priscilla Bosum, who is from the community of Oujé-Bougoumou and speaks Cree, worked as an interim legal assistant in the office this spring.
"It's significant, you know, to be served by a public service such as legal aid in your own native language," said Wylde.
"It can be comforting, because when you need a lawyer, it's not because things are going good in your life."
It can be comforting...because when you need a lawyer, it's not because things are going good in your life.- Fanny Wylde, legal aid lawyer Chibougamau
More than half of the clients who apply for legal aid in the region are Indigenous, according to Wylde — mostly from the inland Cree communities of Mistissini, Waswanapi and Oujé-Bougoumou and Nemaska in northern Quebec.
The Chibougamau legal aid office also serves the non-Indigenous communities of Chibougamau and Chapais. Many of the cases involve youth protection, young offenders and family law cases.
Bosum filled in as legal assistant this spring and said she developed a deep interest in the work, though she is no longer working in the office.
Served in Cree
"Some of the clients speak [only] a little bit of English [and] sometimes it is hard to understand what kind of help they need," said Bosum in Cree. She said people who call or come to the office were surprised and very pleased to be able to be served in Cree.
Wylde said the legal aid office is very well adapted to serving the Cree population, even when a Cree speaker isn't on hand.
She adds that it's so important to offer this support to Indigenous people, so they can get the defence they deserve from a person who understands the culture and history of Indigenous communities.
"When they see me for the first time and they realize that I'm native too, it makes them happy," said Wylde, who before this assignment, worked as commission counsel with the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
"I can relate to them as a First Nation, even though our tribes are different. We have a lot of common things. And to me, it's really serving my brothers and sisters and I enjoy going to the office every day."
- An earlier version of this story incorrectly suggested that Priscilla Bosum is still working in the legal aid office. In fact, she worked there in the spring. Some of her quotes have also been removed from the story due to a miscommunication.Jun 22, 2021 4:29 PM CT