A Cree lawyer from the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation near Prince Albert was named the first Indigenous president of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA).
Brad Regehr practices law with Maurice Law in Winnipeg, Man.
“I think I worked hard to get here; I’ve been involved with the CBA for the last 15 years in a variety of leadership positions both provincially and federally. The CBA is committed to equality and diversity. I am grateful for the confidence of my colleagues who voted me in to do this job,” Regehr said.
“Brad is an exceptional lawyer and contributor to the legal profession. As the first Indigenous person to hold the office of CBA President, he will provide invaluable perspective at a critical time in Canada’s history,” said Ron Maurice, senior partner at Maurice Law.
The CBA is a national organization for the country’s legal profession representing 36,000 lawyers, judges, law teachers and law students across Canada.
The former CBA vice president said he previously had no plans of pursuing a career in law.
“I wanted to be a firefighter,” Regehr said laughing. “There was a show I used to watch called ‘Emergency’ and it was all about firefighters in Los Angeles. I graduated high school in the 80s, I didn’t have great eyes and there was an eyesight restriction so I couldn’t be a firefighter.”
Regehr said he shifted his focus and decided to go into teaching but, in the 1990s there was a long waiting list in Waterloo, Ont., where he was living at the time. While working at his part-time job, his co-worker showed him the law school application test booklet.
“This is kind of interesting and you can do some really interesting things as a lawyer,” said Regehr who went on to receive his B.A. at the University of Waterloo in 1993 and completed his LL.B. at the University of Manitoba in 1996. He was later called to the bar in Manitoba one year later.
Sixties Scoop survivor
A member of the 60s Scoop, Regehr said his mother moved to Winnipeg where he was born. He was then taken away and put into foster homes for six months and later adopted by a non-Indigenous family.
“My family never hid it from me. My (adopted) mom said, ‘When you’re ready, I can try and help you and find your family.’ She kept records when I became an adult which helped in finding my biological family. I always say I was one of the lucky ones. I know other (Indigenous) children who were scooped and had horrible experiences but I got lucky. My family always accepted me and I always felt loved,” he said.
By his mid-20s, Regehr dug deeper into his roots and where his family came from.
“There were those struggles of trying to figure out who you are. I really needed to figure that out later in life, who I was, where I come from. There was always a part of my heart that I needed to get filled with that knowledge of who my family is. It was pretty awesome,” Regehr said.
Through his work, Regehr was part of a legal team that successfully defended a challenge to a First Nation’s tax laws under the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, the first litigation involving that statute. He also acted for a First Nation that partnered in a major hydro-electric project, advising and acting at all stages of the project as well as appearing before both the Clean Environment Commission and Public Utilities Board. He has also helped numerous clients on implementation issues involving both land and flood claim agreements.
His message to other Indigenous youth thinking about pursuing a law career is to keep at it, never give up and find a mentor.
“If you have a dream, follow that dream and work hard, you can do it, make your family and nation proud and help your people,” Regehr said.