Roberta Jamieson, LLB’76, LLD'93, is the first First Nations woman to earn a law degree. A respected leader and skilled advocate, this woman of many firsts has opened countless doors for Canada’s Indigenous people. And her commitment to change started at Western.
For Roberta Jamieson (LLB’76, LLD’93), her advocacy for Canadian aboriginal issues was fuelled by the 1971 Quebec government announcement to build the James Bay hydroelectric project. As a student at McGill, Jamieson helped take up the cause of the James Bay Cree, defending their territory which was to be flooded as part of the project.
As a young Mohawk from the Six Nations, Jamieson soon realized she needed legal training to be an effective advocate. So in 1973, she enrolled at Western to study law. Three years later, she became the first First Nations woman to graduate from law school.
Although much of what Jamieson studied at Western Law clashed with her personal beliefs, she still credits Western for making a serious commitment to finding a place for aboriginal students. Faculty members supported her work to establish the national Native Law Students Association.
Known as an authority on non-adversarial methods for conflict resolution, Jamieson has attained an extraordinary career of firsts. She is the first aboriginal woman in Canada to earn a law degree, the first woman Ombudsman of Ontario, and the first woman elected chief of the Six Nations of the Grand River Territory.
She now serves as CEO of Indspire, a non-profit committed to assisting young aboriginal people with their education and career aspirations.
Jamieson has never lost sight of the power of her Mohawk traditional values and her legal training to advance First Nations issues. Through a strong sense of responsibility and identity, she feels a deep obligation to work on behalf of her community.
“We know from experience that when our people serve our own people,” she said in a 2003 interview, “we have incredible success.”
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