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Leanne Bellegarde-Daniels, a young First Nations lawyer has done just that. Entering the world of legal professionals and amassing the vast skills and legal experience over a relatively short time from law school graduation, Leanne has translated this into her own law practice providing a wonderful example to all First Nations young men and women. That example being that the professional community is an avenue for career development and progress for all ethnic origins.
Born in the Battlefords and identifying her First Nations band as the Kawacatoose through marriage, Leanne spent her early childhood in Meadow Lake. She completed her first 3 years of high school at Holy Cross in Saskatoon and graduated in Fort Qu'Appelle.
She entered a Sociology program at the University of Saskatchewan in 1985 and after spending a couple of years within this academic environment, realized that perhaps another academic choice might be more fruitful. A friend encouraged Leanne to explore the law school program and that the Native Summer School Law Program, a pre-law national program held at U of S might be the avenue to seek.
After completion of this program, pondering the legal world, Leanne worked toward the completion of her Arts Sociology degree whereupon her grandfather, as a mentor, prompted Leanne to complete her law degree and take up the challenge to become a model in the legal profession for First Nations people.
Leanne graduated in 1991 and accepted a research position with the Federal government in the Treaty Land Entitlement area. As she was completing her law degree, a lawyer with a leading provincial firm, McPherson Leslie Tyreman, Jim Kerby extended an invitation to Leanne to do her required articling at the MLT firm. This experience proved to be extremely beneficial and senior lawyers as Harold Mackay and Tom Molloy, who have extensive experience working with and on behalf of First Nations people also acted as mentors and advisers and added support for Leanne's professional career.
Working again with the Treaty Land environment, Leanne gained additional experience working closely with Federal Justice as an outside counsel. Then a move to the City of Saskatoon in 1993-94 as a City Solicitor provided municipal legal knowledge. Armed with these new skills, Leanne then entered the corporate world and acted as an Industrial Relations and Corporate Counsel for SaskTel in Regina for approximately three years. In this capacity, Leanne was able to participate in significant First Nations relationship building with the provincial Crown.
The time was now right for this First Nations lawyer and the destiny that she has so admirably embraced. She arrived at a decision with her Federal, provincial and corporate experience and the support from the legal community and the First Nations community - to enter private legal practice and establish her own venture.
Perry Bellegarde, Chief, Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, approached Leanne to become an assistant legal counsel for the FSIN in the important area of Treaty Governance, where she ultimately was appointed Executive Director. She also added responsibility for employment matters as well as participating in the guidance of the First Nations Trust Fund.
Then a move to become Legal Counsel to the FSIN for a period of time until Leanne became a mother. During her maternity leave, she concluded that her legal venture awaited and she made the decision to open her legal venture in August, 2000 at the urban reserve location in Sutherland. The move has proven to be timely for Leanne. She has established herself as an important professional leader for the First Nations people. Coupled with the experience she has accumulated since her journey into the legal world, offers her expertise to both aboriginal and non-aboriginal clients across the prairies.
A recent achievement of note is that Leanne conducted a presentation on behalf of her people to the National Energy Board in Calgary of which she is very proud. Leanne is hopeful that other First Nations particularly young women will choose to follow her lead in the legal profession and create their own venture.