For Immediate Release: The Law Society of Manitoba appoints members to new Indigenous Advisory Committee chaired by the Honourable Murray Sinclair to help guide ongoing work toward reconciliation.
Last October, the Law Society’s benchers decided to create an Indigenous Advisory Committee and in December, they appointed the Honourable Murray Sinclair to serve as Chair of this new Committee. The Law Society is pleased to announce the appointment of the following committee members:
The Honourable Murray Sinclair, Chair
The Honourable Murray Sinclair is an Anishinaabe and a member of the Peguis First Nation. He is a Fourth Degree Chief of the Midewiwin Society, a traditional healing and spiritual society of the Anishinaabe Nation responsible for protecting the teachings, ceremonies, laws, and history of the Anishinaabe. He graduated from law school in 1979. He has been involved with the justice system in Manitoba for over 40 years, as a lawyer representing Indigenous clients, as an Adjunct Professor of Law at Robson Hall, as Associate Chief Judge of Manitoba’s Provincial Court and as a Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench. He was the first Indigenous Judge appointed in Manitoba and Canada’s second. He served as Co-Chair of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry of Manitoba and as Chief Commissioner of Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He retired from the Bench and was appointed to the Senate in 2016. After retiring from the Senate in early 2021, he returned to the practice of law and mentoring young lawyers at Cochrane Saxberg LLP. He is currently writing his memoirs.
Jessica Saunders, Vice-Chair
Jessica is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and grew up in Cranberry Portage, Manitoba between Lake Athapapuskow and the Cranberry Lakes (1-3), the Headwaters of the Grass River. She grew up hunting, fishing, berry picking and spending weekends at her grandfather’s trapline. Jessica’s grandmother is a survivor of Residential School and her mother a survivor of the Sixties Scoop. Her life experiences have enriched her Indigenous law and child protection practice, allowing her to relate uniquely to her clients. Jessica has two children, a 12-year-old son and a 6-year-old daughter. Her children are her greatest teachers and motivators.
Jessica was called to the Bar in 2011. For the past 10 years, she has specialized in Indigenous and child protection litigation, representing Indigenous nations, organizations and child and family services agencies through all levels of litigation from settlement discussions to trials and appeals. She has had conduct of dockets in 6 remote fly-in communities in Southeastern Manitoba. Recently, she has shifted the focus of her practice to assisting Indigenous nations in the revitalization and codification of Indigenous laws to form the foundation of laws to be enacted further to An Act Respecting First Nation, Inuit and Metis children, youth and families (C-92). In this process, she will assist her clients in assuming full jurisdiction over child and family services, empowering community people and reclaiming community processes.
Jessica has appeared before the Commission of Inquiry into the Circumstances Surrounding the Death of Phoenix Sinclair, the Public Utilities Board, the Clean Environment Commission, the Federal Court and all levels of Court in Manitoba.
Jessica was appointed to the Law Society of Manitoba’s Equity Committee in 2016 and held that position until being appointed to the Law Society of Manitoba’s Complaints Investigation Committee in 2018. Jessica was the Chair of the Public Interest Law Centre Advisory Committee from 2018 – 2020. She is currently the Chair of the Law Society of Manitoba’s Equity Committee and is the Vice-Chair of the Complaints Investigation Committee. Jessica was appointed as a Law Society Bencher in 2018 and was re-appointed in 2020.
Knowledge Keeper E.J. Fontaine
E. J. Fontaine is a dedicated mentor and inspiring entrepreneur committed to giving back to his community. He is a member of Sagkeeng First Nation where he grew up, located on Treaty 1 territory. E.J. was the first member of his immediate family to attend university. He graduated with a diploma in agriculture from the University of Manitoba in 1987.
In 2003 he co-founded Anishinabek Consultants with his wife Eva Wilson-Fontaine, which has since evolved into AMIK™ Inc. and ANISH Corporation. AMIK™ Inc. and ANISH Corporation are staples within the Indigenous community in Manitoba providing services in a culturally relevant manner to families affected by Canada’s Indian residential school system, assisting Indigenous people within the workforce, and matching employers with qualified Indigenous professionals. E.J. and Eva have delivered Indigenous cultural awareness training to some of the largest corporations in Canada and are very respected within the Indigenous community as highly sought after speakers and facilitators.
In October 2011, E.J. and his wife and business partner Eva Wilson-Fontaine received the Aboriginal Business Leadership Award from Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba. In 2012, E.J. received the Certificate of Merit from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences In recognition of contributions to Manitoba’s agricultural community.
E.J. is dedicated to giving back to the community and is a volunteer board member at Kekinan Centre and in the past has participated as a Board member with Food Matters Manitoba, Sagkeeng Education Authority and as an appointee on the Mayor’s Indigenous Advisory Council for the City of Winnipeg.
Knowledge Keeper Eva Wilson-Fontaine
Eva Wilson-Fontaine is a leader, a visionary and a highly sought after mentor within the Indigenous community in Winnipeg. Eva is a member of the Peguis First Nation located on Treaty 1 territory. She is a dedicated mother and kookum (grandmother), and her compassion and love has lent itself to her professional life. Eva’s passion is working with Indigenous people, specifically in social services, and training and employment. She is currently the Team Leader for the ANISH Corporation, which she co-founded with her husband, EJ, along with AMIK™ Inc. Eva oversees the delivery of services and programs to families and communities affected by Canada’s Indian residential school system and is a highly respected and admired matriarch within the Indigenous community. She was instrumental in establishing Cedar Lake Ranch under Anish Corporation which is cultural land based facility that offers a place to host ceremonies, meetings and gatherings.
Eva is very involved in her community beyond her professional life. Truly dedicated to her community, she has served as a Trustee of the Helen Betty Osborne Memorial Foundation, Co-Chair for the Women as Career Mentor Gala Dinner Event, and is a former board member of Ikwe Widdjiitiwin Women’s Shelter. Currently she sits as a member of the Manitoba First Nation Wellness Advisory Committee, The Assembly of First Nations Mental Wellness Advisory Committee and she is a Board Member of Kekinan Centre Inc.
The community has recognized Eva for her dedication and in October 2011, Eva and her husband E.J. received the Aboriginal Business Leadership Award from Asper School of Business, University of Manitoba.
Desiree grew up in Dauphin and left home to attend the University. She received her L.L.B. from the University of Manitoba in 2008 and was called to the bar in 2009. After spending over a decade of her career working almost exclusively in litigation, she was inspired to offer alternatives to families who are facing separation and divorce. She, along with her business partner, opened Parkland Collaborative Legal Options in September, 2020. Desiree completed her arbitration course through the Alternative Dispute Resolution Institute of Canada and now offers arbitration services along with collaborative family law services. Desiree Dorion is a proud member of the Opaskaway Cree Nation. She is also an accomplished singer/songwriter and JUNO Nominee.
Vincent is the current elected Bencher for the North Region and has been a bencher the last 5 years. He is currently a member of the Complaints Investigation Committee, Chair of the Equity Committee, President’s Special Committee on Regulating Legal Entities, and was appointed to the Manitoba Law Foundation. He is also a member of the Indigenous Prosecution Service Resource Council which will have an official launch next week.
Born and raised in the North (The Pas being his hometown), Vincent graduated in 1991 with a BA in Sociology from the University of Saskatchewan. Vincent had hoped to try to complete his childhood dream of becoming a lawyer. That opportunity did not come to fruition until 14 years later in 2005.
Mr. Sinclair received his call to the Bar in June of 2010. He articled with and continues to work at the Manitoba Prosecutions’ office in The Pas, MB. He has stated he will always remain in the North.
Prior to that sudden career change in 2005, Mr. Sinclair worked for the Opaskwayak Cree Nation for 12 years. During his employment with the First Nation, of which he is a First Nation Member, he worked closely with all three levels of government (Federal, Provincial and Municipal) in relation to Specific Land Claims and Self Government initiatives of the First Nation; many bridges and networks were built during that time.
Mr. Sinclair was also very involved politically during his time working for the First Nation. He was a Board of Director for the Education Authority for a period of four years after being elected for two consecutive terms. He was also elected to Chief and Council for a two year term in 1999.
Currently, Mr. Sinclair continues to be involved with the First Nation as a Board member in the Governance Branch. Until recently, he sat on the OCN Child and Family Services Agency Board for nearly ten years, with the last two years as the Chairperson. He has also volunteered over the years in many local and other First Nation events such as the Opaskwayak Indian Days and Trapper’s Festival held in The Pas, MB.
Mr. Sinclair brings years of experience of living in the North, working with surrounding First Nations, and collaborating with Provincial and local Municipal government representatives on many local projects and initiatives.
Frankie is a Metis woman from the Red River Settlement located near Selkirk, where she was born and raised. She began her career as a mental health clinician where she worked in a crisis setting prior to moving on to policy analysis and then leadership roles as the Director of Aboriginal Health with the Province of Manitoba, Director – Indigenous Health Workforce Development and Vice President of Community Services with Macdonald Youth Services. After serving as the Director of Indigenous Relations with Manitoba Justice, she moved into her current role of Executive Director, Youth Justice.
Frankie’s work, whether in leadership or the frontline, has centred around improvement in access to quality care for Indigenous and underserved populations. Her proudest achievement to date has been the co-development of Reclaiming Hope: Manitoba’s Youth Suicide Strategy which resulted in a number of opportunities for remote and rural communities, including the Rural and Northern Telehealth program at MATC, a program that drew Frankie back into clinical frontline work during its development and implementation phases. In her role with Manitoba Justice, Frankie’s portfolio includes providing advice and support to the Department pertaining to Indigenous engagement, Reconciliation, cultural safety and more.
In her spare time, Frankie continues to operate a small private therapy practice, which is largely focused on supports to individuals in the transgender/two-spirit community and those who have a history of personal or familial involvement with residential schools, 60s scoop or child welfare.
Ken practice in estates litigation at the estates and trust firm of Tradition Law LLP. He was called to the bar in 1997 and has practiced litigation in Winnipeg since then, including representing one of the signatories to the Northern Flood Agreement and appearing before the NFA Arbitrator, and he also spent about five years exclusively representing survivors of Residential Schools. Ken has experience locally and nationally in leadership positions with the Canadian Bar Association, including: he is a past president of the Manitoba Bar Association and a life council member; he is the former chair of the CBA Legislation and Law Reform Committee; he is a former co-chair of the MBA Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Community section; he is currently on the executive of the MBA Wills and Estates Section. Ken is the former chair of the Insurance Agents and Adjusters Licensing Appeal Board, and a current alternate chair of the Manitoba Review Board (Criminal Code). He also sits as the legal member of the Judicial Inquiry Board. He recently finished a six-year term on the board of the Canadian Bar Insurance Association / Lawyers Financial, where he served on its audit and governance committees. He has also served on the boards of a number of non-profit organisations. He is finishing his first year as an elected bencher where he sat on the Equity Committee, the President’s Special Committee on Regulating Legal Entities, and the Discipline Committee.
Elissa Neville is a lawyer and partner at Rachlis Neville LLP, where her current practice is focused on conducting independent workplace and institutional investigations.
A graduate of Dalhousie Law School and called to the Bar in 1999, Elissa has previously practiced law with a large private law firm, in the Aboriginal law group at Manitoba Civil Legal Services, and in a corporate law department. Elissa worked at Manitoba Hydro for over thirteen years and spent a number of these as the director responsible for corporate Indigenous and community relations. Working throughout Manitoba, she has led a variety of multi-disciplinary initiatives, including negotiations and engagement processes that involved working effectively and respectfully with Indigenous communities. Elissa has also worked on international initiatives in the resource sector related to community inclusion.
Elissa has been a member of the Law Society of Manitoba’s Equity Committee since 2016, an alternate Chair of the Criminal Code Review Board of Manitoba since 2015 and has served on boards of various community non-profit organizations. Elissa is currently pursuing her Master of Laws in Dispute Resolution from Osgoode Hall Law School.
Each appointee brings demonstrated experience, skills and knowledge relevant to this important work. Committee members represent urban, rural and northern locations across Manitoba and a broad range of Indigenous as well as non-Indigenous perspectives.
The Law Society recognizes the imperative of reconciliation for the legal profession and the justice system. We also recognize it requires ongoing work which must be carried out in collaboration with Indigenous peoples. We are committed to doing this work and are grateful for the wisdom and assistance of the Committee members as we take our next steps on our journey.
– Grant Driedger, President, The Law Society of Manitoba