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December 1, 2022
Canada’s first Indigenous Supreme Court justice isn’t the next Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She just wants to be herself.
In a world of Amy Coney Barretts and Brett Kavanaughs, Michelle O’Bonsawin was intent on keeping a low profile. Then in September, O’Bonsawin, a 48-year-old mother of two, was appointed the first Indigenous judge to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada in its nearly 150-year history—and with that came backlash. Critics picked apart O’Bonsawin’s credentials, which include a past stint at the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, plus a recent Ph.D. thesis (now embargoed) with a focus on Indigenous law.
O’Bonsawin’s lived experience as an Abenaki member of Quebec’s Odanak First Nation has never been more relevant to Canada’s highest court, which will field two landmark cases pertaining to Indigenous self-governance in the coming months. (One of them, centred on Bill C-92, will determine whether it violates provincial jurisdiction to give Indigenous communities precedence over child-welfare cases.) O’Bonsawin has said herself that she’s a judge first and an Indigenous woman second, but you can’t exactly fault Canadians for wanting to know a bit more about the woman wielding the gavel. Here, O’Bonsawin revealed, well, a little bit.
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