Wrapped in Stars: A celebration of the first Indigenous Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada

Faculty of Law - Civil Law Section
Alumni
Appointment
Indigenous

By Common Law

Communication, Faculty of Law

A woman stands in the centre of a circle of people. She is wrapped in a blanket.
The Faculty of Law was thrilled to gather for the long-awaited Welcome Ceremony honoring Justice Michelle O'Bonsawin, who made history as the first Indigenous person appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada in September 2022.

The ceremony, initially slated for February 2023, had been unfortunately postponed twice, adding to the anticipation surrounding this significant occasion. 

The Faculty has a rich tradition of organizing similar ceremonies for every justice appointed since 2004, underscoring the close ties between the Civil and Common Law Sections and the Supreme Court of Canada. However, this celebration held extra significance as Justice O'Bonsawin is an alum of the Faculty, having earned her LLB in 1998 and a doctorate in law in 2022. 

In the introductory remarks, Kristen Boon, the Susan & Perry Dellelce Dean of the Common Law Section, expressed the unique bond the Faculty shares with Justice O'Bonsawin, saying, "Tonight’s celebration is a little extra special since Justice O'Bonsowin is truly one of our own. She is a graduate of our very unique programme de common law en francais and completed her PhD here." Dean Boon added a personal touch, sharing that Justice O'Bonsawin met her husband Pierre on the first day of law school, possibly even in the very room where the ceremony took place. 

A woman stands at a podium
Kristen Boon, the Susan & Perry Dellelce Dean of the Common Law Section.

A ceremony of purification, or smudging, performed by Gilbert Whiteduck, Indigenous Knowledge Holder for the Common Law Section, led to a star-blanket ceremony. Presided over by Viviane Michel, an Innu leader and former President of Quebec Native Women, the star blanket ceremony is a poignant tribute to Indigenous traditions. Representatives from the Métis, First Nations, and Inuit communities participated in the ceremony, surrounding Justice O’Bonsawin and then wrapping her in a beautiful, handmade, colourful star quilt, honoring the unique practices of their nations and promoting respect for Indigenous identity and culture.

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Gilbert Whiteduck, Indigenous Knowledge Holder for the Common Law Section, and Viviane Michel, an Innu leader and former President of Quebec Native Women.

For First Nations, blankets are symbols rich in meaning and traditions linked to culture, birth, life and death. They are the sign of beliefs and struggles for survival that transcend time and space. First Nations people continue to use blankets in their traditional practices and place great value on them.

A woman is wrapped in a colourful quilt by three other women

Stepping in for Civil Law Dean Marie-Eve Sylvestre who was sadly unable to attend the event, Professor Jennifer Quaid, Vice-Dean Research, acknowledged the historical significance of Justice O'Bonsawin's appointment.

 “Twenty-five years after the closing of the last residential school in Canada, the importance of this appointment and what it represents for this country cannot be underestimated,” Quaid said.

A woman wearing a red blazer speaks in front of a microphone
Professor Jennifer Quaid, Vice-Dean Research, Civil Law Section.

An honour song, performed by David Charette, a two-spirit Ojibwe artist from Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve, added a powerful dimension to the ceremony. Charette, known for their expertise in visual arts, crafts, and traditional First Nations singing and drumming, captivated the audience with a performance that resonated with the spirit of the occasion.

A person holds a drum in one hand and a baton in the other. They appear to be singing.
David Charette, Ojibwe artist from Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve.

Justice O'Bonsawin, in her speech, thanked the Faculty for being the starting point of her trajectory in law and that the “support and reinforcement [she] needed to become a knowledgeable and well-respected lawyer, was gained here as part of the PCLF (French common law program).”

In closing, she addressed the students in the room, saying “I encourage you all to follow your dreams. You are going to face trials and tribulations, but you have all you need to overcome. The key to success is in your hands.”

A woman stands at the podium in front of a classroom full of spectators

Leaders from student associations l’Association des étudiantes et étudiants en droit civil, and the Indigenous Law Student Governance as well as the Certificat en droit autochtone program contributed to the celebration by presenting gifts to Justice O'Bonsawin. Their thoughtful gestures added a touch of camaraderie to the event, symbolizing the support and admiration the student body holds for this trailblazing alumna.

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Students from l’Association des étudiantes et étudiants en droit civil (AED), the Indigenous Law Student Governance (ILSG) and the Certificat en droit autochtone presented gifts to Justice O'Bonsawin.

The Faculty of Law was very pleased to welcome five of the other justices of the   Supreme Court at the event which not only celebrated Justice O'Bonsawin's achievements but also highlighted the importance of diversity and representation on the country’s top court.

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The Honourable Judges of the Supreme Court of Canada pose with faculty members (L-R:) Justice Kasirer, Justice Jamal, Justice Karakatsanis, Professor Quaid, Justice O'Bonsawin, Professor Ottawa, Chief Justice Wagner, Justice Côté & Dean Kristen Boon.

A welcome ceremony for the newest member of the court – Justice Mary Moreau – will take place in the coming months.