A version of this open letter originally appeared on MeetNaomi.com.
Dear Honourable Jody Wilson-Raybould,
It's been just over three years since I wrote my first open letter to you. You were named Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada. You were the first Indigenous person to hold such a title. I remember that day clearly. I sat in the back of my laws of evidence class and, as the news poured in, I struggled to hold back tears of joy. Immediately after class ended, I went home to cry and pray. I am now a recently called lawyer with barely a fraction of your experience.
In the past few weeks, you were moved to a different portfolio. Some people called it a demotion. You saw the new role as a "great honour." Shortly after, news broke that the Prime Minister's Office attempted to press you to intervene in the prosecution of a major corporation.
I know you do not need my words of support, but I want you to know that you still give me hope, as an Indigenous woman and most certainly as an Indigenous lawyer. For other people like me, especially in the face of public degradation of your work ethic by unnamed individuals, you continue to remain an inspiration for all. And, while we may not be the same, we are somewhat similar in what you are experiencing today.
Integrity is a word that is rarely talked about, and if you asked someone what integrity means to them, some people might draw a blank. Growing up, I was taught that bravery was one of the seven grandfather teachings, and to be brave is to show integrity — to do what is right despite the consequences, good or bad. I still believe in this teaching today as an Indigenous woman.
For lawyers, however, to have integrity is to also have good character, a requirement for all licensed lawyers. And, for me in particular, this is why you continue to inspire me.
If someone wonders what integrity is today, I hope they think of you. I know I will.
From June 2017 until February 2018, I was under a good-character investigation by my regulator, the Law Society of Ontario. I was under this investigation after my own self-disclosures, as required by the lawyer licensing process and in my own desire to be honest in my application to become a lawyer licensing candidate. I note, however, that not all lawyer licensing candidates undergo a good-character investigation. During those nearly nine months, I was greatly impacted by the investigation, mentally, emotionally and financially. I was told not to discuss the investigation until after I was called to the bar.
While you may not be able to speak or say the things in order to defend yourself publicly, I know that many have done so to date, even if some of them disagree with your politics. This is why I write this letter.
What is happening in the public domain is a sad state of affairs from a political party that I have supported since my first vote. I am saddened that the prime minister and/or his office have chosen to take a toxic and manipulative approach, one in which you are significantly limited, professionally, from defending yourself. As an Indigenous woman who tries to live by the seven grandfather teachings, especially bravery, it makes me sick to my stomach.
I know that you have good people in your corner, especially as your dad defends your integrity in the public sphere. Just like you, I also had a father who would have defended my integrity. During my good-character investigation, I had to defend why my own traditional way of being, as dictated through my cultural practices, could meet the threshold for being a lawyer in a colonial legal system. Despite the years of experience distancing us, I understand what you are going through, even if on a less significant scale, and I wholeheartedly support you.
I believe in living with bravery and integrity is important. Your actions over the last few days, which speak volumes on their own, only make being a young Indigenous lawyer even more of a privilege. It is not a privilege because only a select few can be a lawyer; it is a privilege because Indigenous people, particularly Indigenous women, continue to live with integrity, as we have always done. If someone wonders what integrity is today, I hope they think of you. I know I will.
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You have worked hard to get where you are, and I know that you will continue to exemplify integrity because you are also an Indigenous woman that comes from a long line of ancestors that demonstrated integrity, long before reference to any colonial legal system.
You will always be an inspiration for me. I am forever grateful for Indigenous women like you who make way for others. In the end, it is a shame that the prime minister and his office continue to act without integrity in the face of these allegations against you.
Miigwetch (thank you) for everything.
Naomi Sayers Ozaawaagiizis'okwe
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