“Let’s get this straight. I had never contemplated being a lawyer. Not once. Not growing up, not as a teenager, not until the very end of my undergrad studies,” said Brad Regehr who is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan, a partner at Maurice Law, and former President of the Canadian Bar Association (CBA). Brad graduated from the University of Waterloo in 1993 with a joint honours degree in History and Religious Studies.

Although Brad did not consider pursuing law until nearing the end of his undergraduate program, in hindsight, he can now see the ways his interest in justice, advocacy, and politics have played an underlying role in his life. While taking courses at the University of Waterloo and Conrad Grebel University College, Brad realized he wanted to learn more about Indigenous history and constitutional issues in Canada. “I wanted to focus on Indigenous issues. Whether I was taking a geography course, an environment resource studies course, or a history course, I always tried to make it focused on Indigenous history or legal issues. I knew that I wanted to take what I was learning and work for—and with—Indigenous people,” shared Brad.

Throughout his studies, Brad met several professors who encouraged his interest in Indigenous topics. “I have a feeling that professors like Len Friesen, Arnold Snyder, Sally Weaver, Robbie Keith and Palmer Patterson helped hone what I was thinking and what I was interested in,” said Brad. He recalls being given the opportunity by Professor Darryl Bryant to write his thesis on ecological themes in religion, particularly highlighting Indigenous beliefs. “I also took a Peace and Conflict Studies course at Grebel, which is where I met two guys who became very good friends of mine: Brian Jantzi and Pedram Fanian. The course was called Alternative World Orders, taught by Len Friesen. It was very intriguing and gave me a lot to think about. Len was an amazing professor,” reflected Brad.

Beyond discussions with—and support from—professors, Brad developed his interest in Indigenous rights by connecting with the former Weejeendimin Friendship Center in Kitchener, and he became involved in the various events they hosted. Brad noted, “I was this Western Cree guy, and they were all from Mohawk or Great Lakes Ojibwe background, but they opened their arms to me.”

Discussion about national Indigenous rights made headlines during Brad’s first few years of undergraduate studies. “When I was at Waterloo, we were going through the Meech Lake Accord, the Oka Crisis, and the Charlottetown Accord. I admired people like Ovide Mercredi and Elijah Harper. I can remember in the summer of 1990, going to rallies supporting Elijah Harper. But even through all this, I never thought about being a lawyer,” recalled Brad. In turbulent years, when the voices speaking up for Indigenous needs and just treatment became louder, Brad listened closely to the national conversation, but he could not envision himself contributing to the discussion in the way he has 30 years down the road.

It was in 1992 when Brad, who had just put aside his hopes of becoming a teacher, discovered the possibility of a career in law. “I worked at the Turnkey Desk in the Campus Centre. One day, a colleague came in carrying the Law School Admission Test book. It was a blue, newsprint type of book. I asked him what it was, and he said it was the LSAT and he was going to write it and become a lawyer. I asked him if I could take a look, and I started reading it. In the first part, it explained what it means to be a lawyer, what it means to study law. I thought it was interesting because it’s really about advocacy—advocating for your clients.” For Brad, law provided an opportunity to pursue his interest in helping others and join the struggle for justice.

“I thought I might as well write the LSAT and see what happened. Worst-case, I’d get a bad grade and decide to do something else,” said Brad. When his test results came back, the grade was higher than Brad expected, and he decided to apply to several law schools. After completing his law degree at the University of Manitoba, Brad articled at Pitblado and Hoskin LLP, worked for a First Nation organization called the Treaty Land Entitlement Committee of Manitoba, then transitioned to D’Arcy & Deacon LLP for 16 years before joining Maurice Law, where he is a partner today.

23 years after being called to the bar in Manitoba, Brad made history when he was elected as the first Indigenous president of the Canadian Bar Association in its 124-year history. “I have spoken about the problems which Indigenous peoples in Canada have with the justice system, and I intend to continue to speak about these problems while I’m President,” said Brad in the Transfer of the Chain ceremony at the start of his term. While President of the CBA, Brad focused on developing and promoting educational resources for lawyers about the history of Indigenous peoples and present-day Indigenous legal issues. “Just before my term, the CBA launched a program called The Path, which was a multi-modual course on Indigenous legal issues and history. I am very proud that while I was president, that program became the most successful professional development resource in the CBA’s history. Last I heard, 6,000 people signed up for it in three years.”

Today, as a partner at Maurice Law, Brad is grateful to continue his work as an advocate. “My clientele is predominantly First Nation communities. A big focus of our firm is on something called specific land claims, which involves resolving historical grievances that First Nations have with the Crown.” Brad added, “I’m not sure every lawyer can say this, but I really like my clients. I get to work with amazing people and feel good at the end of the day.”

Brad did not grow up knowing he was going to pursue a career in law, but he did know what was important to him: advocating for Indigenous peoples. Professors at Grebel and the University of Waterloo helped hone his interest, Indigenous leaders equipped him with inspiration, and the little blue book at the Turnkey Desk provided direction—direction for a life of advocacy and the pursuit of justice.

Brad's story is part of Grebel's 60 Stories for 60 Years project. Check out our 60 Stories page for more articles in this series. If you would like to nominate a Grebel alumnus to share about their experiences at Grebel, please submit a nomination form.

By Tim Saari

Photo by Daniel Crump, Canadian Press

Brad is a member of the Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation in Saskatchewan and a survivor of the Sixties Scoop. In his distinguished career as a lawyer spanning more than 25 years, he was part of the legal team that successfully defended a challenge to a First Nation’s tax laws under the First Nations Fiscal Management Act, is a Partner for Maurice Law in Winnipeg, and is the first Indigenous lawyer to hold office as President of the Canadian Bar Association. Brad is also the Chair of the Indigenous Advisory Group for United College at the University of Waterloo and was recently appointed King’s Counsel by the Province of Manitoba.