This month’s spotlight shines on Jean Teillet of Pape Salter Teillet LLP.
How did you first get involved with CLEBC?
I’m trying to remember. But I believe it was to assist CLEBC with Métis identification and rights issues. That would be a few years ago.
What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?
Most recently, it was a segment on Indigenous Women and the Law in May of 2022. Prior to that, it was a course on Aboriginal Law: Governing in the Time of Covid in November of 2020.
You have served as counsel in numerous significant Indigenous rights cases throughout your career. What trends do you currently see in your practice?
Identity issues seem to be the trend right now. Canadians are abandoning their “white” identities and taking on Indigenous identities. It is not “impersonation” but it is identity fraud because they are intentionally deceiving in order to gain personal benefits. There are tens of thousands doing this and more are migrating to an Indigenous identity every day. In the hunting and fishing realm, it is largely men. In academia and government, it is mostly women. They are called “pretendians.”
Their adoption of Indigenous identities allows them access to jobs, money, and opportunities that are set aside for Indigenous people. Pretendians raise issues with respect to employment/labour law, charter, and privacy issues. It also calls into question recent Supreme Court of Canada caselaw. These identity issues – whether it is an individual right to identify as Indigenous, whether the Indigenous nation has any say, whether there are any necessary requirements to claim an Indigenous identity – are very much in the spotlight as writers, filmmakers, lawyers, and academics are exposed in the press for having little or no right to the Indigenous identities they have been claiming. Some have made these dubious claims for decades and have built fame, prestige, and careers on them.
You are very active in the legal community both as a writer and a speaker. What motivates you to continue volunteering your time and expertise to the legal profession?
I’m a storyteller at heart and I think the law and history are full of fascinating stories. To me, it is the stories that lift the law up from its sometimes-tedious details and make it relevant, emotional, and interesting. I also benefitted greatly from senior lawyers who took the time and effort to tell me stories about their experiences in law. I feel an obligation to do the same.
In 2019, you published your latest book The North-West is Our Mother: The Story of Louis Riel’s People, the Métis Nation. Can you tell us more about that?
The book was commissioned by HarperCollins. It is a 200-year history that is not well known, at least not the Métis perspective on the history. The story is close to my heart because my family has, for at least seven generations, been prominent actors in the Métis Nation. My grandmother was Sara Riel, and my great-grandfather was Joseph Riel – Louis Riel’s brother. So, Louis Riel was my great grand uncle, or I am his great grand-niece. My great-grandmother, Eleanor Poitras, was the grand-niece of the founder of the Métis Nation – Cuthbert Grant. My family had Riel papers that, at the time I wrote the history from 2016-2019, were not in the archives.
I also acted as legal counsel on many Métis hunting and fishing cases and each case generated multiple historical reports supported by thousands of primary source documents. So I was in a unique situation, with access to a great deal of information that fuelled the writing. And it is an epic story that I greatly enjoyed writing.
What are your hopes for the coming year ahead?
I’m working with the National Film Board, hoping to turn my book, The North-West is Our Mother, into a film series. I’m also writing a new book.