THUNDER BAY – Angelique EagleWoman is scary smart.
At least that’s how Lakehead University president Brian Stevenson introduced the school’s newly named dean of the Bora Laskin Faculty of Law on Tuesday afternoon, unveiling the successor to founding dean Lee Steusser.
The American-born EagleWoman, who will officially take the post in May after her son finishes his sixth-grade classes, becomes the first female Aboriginal law-school dean in Canadian history.
She arrives from the University of Idaho College of Law where she teaches law and is a legal scholar. She’s also served as a tribal judge in four tribal court systems.She also served as general counsel for her own tribe, the Sisseston-Wahpeton Oyate in Dakota.
EagleWoman said law schools should be built for law students and said she was attracted to the position because of what the Thunder Bay school stands for, in particular its three mandates – its focus on rural and small town practice, Aboriginal law and natural resources and environmental law.
“Growing up on a reservation it was very rural, very small town, so I know the difference a lawyer can make in a small town and I want to be in a place that cares about those kinds of communities,” she said. A strong believer in utilizing natural resource in the best possible way, EagleWoman said everyone has to care about what they leave behind for future generations.
It was the commitment to Aboriginal law that ultimately sold her on Lakehead.
“The first law school in the world to mandate for all law graduates was something that was very attractive to me and something I’m a firm believer in,” EagleWoman said.
“And I believe this law school is a trendsetter and other law schools will follow that motto. Being a part of that innovative, forward thinking law school was something that I felt strongly about and I felt well suited to.”
She knows there will be challenges ahead.
First and foremost, as the country’s newest law school, there is no alumni base to draw upon.
Ensuring local placements for students, with the help of an enthusiastic local bench and bar, is a key to their success and something EagleWoman wants to ensure is further cemented into place going forward.
“In terms of what I want to accomplish, I want to move the law school from being in the start-up phase to being a national leader, to being amongst the family of law schools in Ontario and beyond,” she said.
Minister of Aboriginal Affairs David Zimmer was on hand for the announcement and called it an historic occasion.
“We are at a tipping point in our relationship with Aboriginal peoples here in Canada and dean EagleWoman is going to be at the forefront of that,” Zimmer said.
“Law touches on so many of the issues that Aboriginal people are dealing with in their relationship with other levels of government in Canada. I foresee the day when there are many more First Nation, Inuit and Metis lawyers.”
Stevenson said EagleWoman was tailor-made for the position.
“We were looking for Angelique. That’s what we were looking for, exactly the strengths she brings – a strong academic foundation, a practical experience, an understanding of the key issues for our faculty … someone who be able to give our students a fundamental education and work with her colleagues to do that.”