Métis law students assisted by new award at UAlberta Law

Vancouver lawyer Mark Gervin inspired to make generous donation by Métis colleagues

Sarah Kent - 28 July 2020

Métis students at the University of Alberta Faculty of Law will know that another person is in their corner, thanks to the generosity of a non-Métis lawyer from Vancouver.

Mark Gervin has established the Gervin Métis Leadership Award in Law after creating the same award at three other law schools.

“I came to law school after 13 years working in the bush. I never thought I could be a lawyer,” said Gervin, who grew up in a blue collar family in a small logging town. “Family, friends, professors and fellow counsel believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. My job now is to believe in my students and other students before they believe in themselves.”

“If I can show Metis students through these four awards that I believe in them, maybe it will assist a little.”

The Gervin Métis Leadership Award in Law recognizes Métis students who have demonstrated involvement in the preservation and participation in Métis culture and leadership within the Indigenous community, along with meeting the academic standing requirements at UAlberta Law.

First established at the Peter A. Allard School of Law in 2017, the awards are also available at the University of Victoria and Thompson Rivers University.

UAlberta Law came onto Gervin’s radar after he met Professor Hadley Friedland when she was a visiting speaker at Allard Law, and he realized he could help Métis students in Alberta as well.

As a criminal defence lawyer and the director of legal services at the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic at Allard Law, Gervin was inspired to create the first award by working alongside two Métis colleagues.

Gervin worked closely with Patricia Barkaskas, the academic director of the clinic, and Carly Teillet, the clinic’s inaugural articling student whose salary was partially funded thanks to a donation from Gervin. Teillet is the niece of renowned Métis lawyer Jean Teillet (who specializes in Indigenous rights litigation and negotiation) and is a descendent of Louis Riel.

Jean Teillet is an inspiration for Gervin, who believes she “has had an outsized impact on First Nations people and Métis people by advocating for them.” He hopes to see future Métis lawyers follow in her footsteps.

The Ripple Effect

But as Gervin discovered, Métis law students are facing barriers to success. At Allard Law, he heard stories of Métis law students who were struggling financially at the end of the semester and were resorting to couch surfing to make ends meet.

“It shocked me. And it also shocked me that it shocked me. My lack of knowledge was and is abundant,” said Gervin. Although he grew up in Squamish, which has a large Indigenous population, and was married to an Indigenous woman, Gervin understands there is always more learning to do as a non-Indigenous person and feels a responsibility to give back.

Gervin has high hopes for the wide reach of the award.

“Their community will benefit from that award as well. It will trickle down by keeping that student in school,” said Gervin. “There may be some child in that community who looks up at their auntie or uncle and says, ‘Wow, they made it through law school, and I can too.’”

The other hope Gervin has for the award is that it educates Canadians about Métis people and their unique history, noting that anti-Indigenous racism continues to be a major problem across Canada.

“We, all Canadians, have so far to go to get to the ‘Truth’ in Truth and Reconciliation, and I would like to do my small part in working on what I can,” he said. “Justice Sinclair advocated ‘Calls to Action,’ and that is what I am attempting to do with these awards: to follow Justice Sinclair’s plea for action.”

Gervin has aspirations to establish the same award at law schools in Saskatchewan and Manitoba so that the ripple effect he believes so strongly in can impact other Métis communities.