Anishinaabe lawyer Sara Mainville mentoring and making space for the next generation

Mainville, also a former chief, says she doesn’t want to be one of the ones who stays around ‘too long.’

For nearly 20 years, Sara Mainville has been practicing law in areas such as self-government and advancing treaty implementation.

It’s important work, but it can also move at a “glacial pace,” says the Anishinaabe lawyer who has been a member of the Ontario bar since 2005.

The slow speed of that type of law led to Mainville branching out her areas of practice to what she calls “bright, shiny projects.”

That started with a conversation with award-winning actor/producer Jennifer Podemski and a move to getting certified in entertainment law.

Mainville recently assisted as a legal advisor on the Crave and APTN series Little Bird, which was co-created by Podemski.

Mainville believes a lot of change can happen if a story is told in the right way.

“Once the stories resonate with public opinion, then you see people saying, we need to do something about this,” says Mainville on the latest episode of Face to Face. “I think about the story of the 215. I think it was ground shifting and I think that we have to be very careful. Right now, entertainment law is very transactional and could actually do some damage to storytellers who have very important stories to tell.

“We want to make sure they’re treated in the way they should be treated.”

Mainville is currently a managing partner at JFK Law LLP and is based in Toronto.

Practicing law was something Mainville says she wanted to do from a very young age.

Politics played a big part in that, as many of the First Nations leaders at the time were also lawyers.

Mainville says she was the only Indigenous law school student in her class.

“I was the first in my family to go to university and certainly the first in my family to go to law school,” she says. “A lot of the students had family members, parents, grandparents that were lawyers or judges. But I did have a mentor and that mentor really helped me do all the right things when I went to law school.

“I really appreciated that advice that I had.”

Today, Mainville, who is also a former chief of Couchiching First Nation in Treaty 3 territory, is the one trying to be the mentor.

“One of the things that I’m active in doing is promoting other Indigenous lawyers because I’m getting up there as a senior lawyer and making sure that I’m making space and not taking up too much space,” she says. “I think leadership also has to do the same thing to allow for younger leaders to take space.

“Some people stay around a little too long.”

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