Turning Points: New Indigenous support manager joins Faculty

Tamara Pearl brings community engagement scholarship and lived experience

UAlberta Law Communication - 22 July 2021

Tamara Pearl’s path to law helps her relate to the struggles of Indigenous law students as their new Faculty support manager.

“I understand a lot of the loneliness that comes from being trailblazers for your own communities,” she says. “I was the first from One Arrow First Nation to be a Juris Doctor and then Master’s of Law graduate.”

Pearl is a Nēhiyaw (Plains-Cree) who grew up in inner-city Saskatoon but spent summers on reserve with family, participating in ceremony and the many community social gatherings, including round dances, Batoche Days and One Arrow First Nation’s annual powwow.

She lived with her mother until she was 13, when she was apprehended by child protection services. At 16, she aged out of care and began navigating inner-city Saskatoon alone, eventually reconnecting with her settler father.

“What was a real resilience or ‘saving’ factor for me growing up was the public library system,” says Pearl. “I met people including librarians who mentored and encouraged me, but it wasn’t until my early twenties that I decided to go to university as a mature student.”

While working full time, she earned an anthropology degree, a JD and LLM at the University of Saskatchewan. She is now a PhD student in law at the University of Ottawa.

As a teaching assistant for the U of S’s Aboriginal Student Achievement Program (now Indigenous Student Achievement Pathways), she “realized that law school was ground zero for a lot of the legislators, policy writers and legal professionals that basically inform how our government runs.

“I found a passion for it — a passion for my people — that I don’t think I would have found if I didn’t learn why things were the way they were, whether it was treaty-making, treaty-honouring, discrimination barriers in past legislation and so on.”

Pursuing a calling in legal community engagement, she became an executive assistant to one of the commissioners for the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. That experience formed the basis of her master’s and doctoral research, which centred on anti-dominance training in an anti-colonial framework for law school curriculum in order to help train legal practitioners for systemic change.

In her new role, she aims to “support the students in their advocacy but also in their needs for what can be done right now.” (SK)