Behind the Brand: Anita Cardinal-Stewart

A law student passionate about justice for Indigenous Peoples wants a seat at the table where the decisions are made.


The U of A’s powerful new brand story video, Leading with Purpose, depicts a law student practicing in a moot court room. She is alone, rehearsing her argument and getting comfortable in the space. She’s shuffling papers, quietly running through her legal argument in the evening. This year, the pandemic threw a wrench into the usual moot court programs that are so helpful to preparing students for their legal careers. Still, Anita Cardinal-Stewart will be ready. In a way, she’s been preparing for this her whole life.

Cardinal-Stewart’s own personal and professional experiences with bias and injustice propelled her toward law school. In her career as a paralegal, far more often than not she was the sole Indigenous person in the room, something she knew had to change. So, two and a half years ago, she started law school at the U of A.

She says she wanted to challenge the system with her presence and inspire others to do the same. A member of Woodland Cree First Nation, she aims to build and support Indigenous communities and get Indigenous folks a seat at the table, “especially those decision-making tables — that’s where we need to be.”

The third-year law student is co-president of the Indigenous Law Students’ Association, a student representative on the Indigenous Bar Association’s executive board, founder of Indigenous Runner YEG, and recipient of the First Peoples Law Scholarship. Her dedication to hard work and preparation, as illustrated in the video, underscore her approach to law and life.

She shared her thoughts on participating in the video and inspiring change.

You want to affect change, which is pretty tough to do. What keeps you motivated?

I’m driven by the need to see that justice truly serves the people and not the system of oppression that seeks to punish rather than heal. Restorative and transitional justice should be a key goal. At the heart of it is reform and understanding that true justice is needed to address past harms and rectify current injustices where mass human rights violations and settler colonial violence can no longer be ignored but faced head-on.

Where does your inspiration come from? 

My family and community inspire me to be a part of the change. My sons and grandson propel me to keep fighting for a better world than the one I grew up in. One where they are not ashamed to be Nêhiyaw (Cree).

You were selected to appear in the U of A brand story video because you are a social innovator. What does that mean to you?  

I prefer the term “agent of change.” Systemic discrimination is a result of an inherently flawed system seen throughout every aspect of society, especially for Indigenous Peoples in Canada. Procedures, policies and organizational cultures exist that keep minorities from succeeding and allow them fewer favourable outcomes than the majority of the population.

It’s important to have as much diversity as we can in all areas of society, and I want to be part of that change. That means having a voice at the table and holding accountable those who would try to silence minority voices.

What was it like being in the video?

Everyone on set made me feel so comfortable; it was just so neat to see how it was all put together! The passion the people working on the project had for it was very inspiring and heartwarming. There was an excitement in the air, and it was a lot of fun to do.