Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond Receives Honorary Degree from Carleton University
Carleton University today conferred an honorary degree on alumna Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond in recognition of her commitment to improving supports for Indigenous Peoples and addressing the needs of children and youth involved in the justice system.
Turpel-Lafond, or Aki-kwe, received a Doctor of Laws during Carleton’s Fall Convocation, where more than 1,300 students received their degrees.
“I’m very grateful, in my career, of being able to serve a little bit as a disruptor of systems that haven’t worked very well – but also a builder of systems that can work much better,” said Turpel-Lafond, noting that there is much more work to be done to improve human rights and recognize Indigenous rights in Canada. “But I also recognize that when I graduated, some 36 years ago, I stood on some very tall shoulders – in terms of people at Carleton, in my family and community – to go forward in the world, make a change and become a leader.
“Today, I am very happy to graduate along with you, the graduates of 2019, and I call upon you to do the same. Stand on the shoulders of the people who have so willingly taught you here, your family and your friends – but go out into the world and make it a better place, a more respectful place and a place that is more tolerant and upholds the human rights of all people.”
A professor of law at the University of British Columbia, Turpel-Lafond serves as the inaugural director of the university’s Indian Residential School Centre for History and Dialogue. A member of the Indigenous Bar, as well as the law societies of British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan, she is senior associate counsel at Woodward and Company – one of Canada’s leading Indigenous rights law firms.
Having experienced poverty and violence during her own childhood, Turpel-Lafond’s career has focused on helping to protect children and youth.
As a Saskatchewan Provincial Court judge for 20 years, Turpel-Lafond became involved in initiatives to improve supports for Indigenous people and meet the unique needs of young Canadians involved the justice system. During this time, she took a leave from the bench in order to serve as B.C.’s first Representative for Children and Youth.
“For 10 years, Dr. Turpel-Lafond was British Columbia’s first Representative for Children and Youth,” said Pauline Rankin, dean of the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. “In that path-breaking position, she undertook a detailed examination of the child-serving system and worked to implement improvements to enhance human rights through case advocacy for more than 17,000 children, youth and families, the majority of which involved Indigenous Peoples.
“More recently, she has represented Canada in United Nations initiatives to advance child welfare reform and Indigenous rights.”
Turpel-Lafond has taught in a number of law schools in Canada and the United States and has appeared at all levels of court in Canada. She has served as a mediator and negotiator on land claims, Indigenous and human rights matters, and worked in public law litigation. She is the author of more than 50 published works and reports.
In 2006, Turpel-Lafond was awarded the distinction of Indigenous Peoples’ Counsel from the Indigenous Bar Association.
Her relations are from the Muskeg Lake Cree Nation and Norway House Cree Nation.
This is the second Carleton degree for Turpel-Lafond, who graduated from the university with a Bachelor of Arts before pursuing a law degree from Osgoode Hall, a master’s degree in international law from the University of Cambridge and a doctorate of law from Harvard Law School.
Lenore Fahrig, Chancellor’s Professor in Carleton’s Department of Biology, also addressed graduates. A scientific trailblazer and internationally renowned researcher, Fahrig’s work has created paradigm shifts in research on habitat connectivity and fragmentation, road ecology and sustainable agriculture.
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