Alumna Called the “Best Lawyer for Aboriginal Law in Canada.”

Jaimie Lickers, Artsci’03, Law’07
Photo by Sandra Mulder

Her First Nation clients have called Jaimie Lickers, Law’07, Artsci’03, the “best lawyer for Aboriginal law in Canada.”

In past centuries, such wisdom and leadership would have distinguished her as an Iroquois wise-woman, a gantowisa. She considers herself “honoured” to have represented Indigenous people in Canada in a host of landmark decisions affecting their rights. Her legal work on those and other cases has won her awards and recognition: the same year she became Gowling WLG’s first-ever Indigenous woman partner, 2017, she won a Lexpert Zenith Award for championing the advancement of women in law and was named to Benchmark Litigation’s annual Under 40 Hotlist of peer-selected young litigators.

She so excels at what she does that it’s odd to hear it’s a path she nearly chose not to follow. Growing up on the Six Nations reserve near Brantford, Ontario, Ms. Lickers, a member of the Onondaga Nation, says she always knew that she wanted to be a lawyer. “There were no lawyers in my immediate family, but I remember thinking in high school, in my naïve teenage way, that you could do a lot of things to change the world, but if you couldn’t change the rules you were limited in the change you could effect.” She thought this seemed especially true for Indigenous people in Canada, whose lives remain so strongly defined and limited by legislation – the Indian Act, the Constitution Act and various treaties.

“It was assumed I wanted to practise Aboriginal law,” she says, reflecting back to when she entered Queen’s Law in the fall of 2004. “I rebelled really aggressively against that stereotype.” Her rebellion took her ultimately to Blakes on Bay Street, working as a corporate commercial litigator.

“The files were great, the clients were great – it was high-stakes law,” she says, but she began feeling unsatisfied. “Stereotype aside, I decided I just really wanted to practise Aboriginal law.” She moved to what was then Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, which had a significant practice in Aboriginal law, joining their Ottawa office in 2010. In 2014 she moved to their Hamilton office to be closer to her family at Six Nations.

Since that move, Ms. Lickers has taken on a number of important, precedent-setting cases affecting the legal status and lives of Indigenous people. She represented the Assembly of First Nations in Daniels vs. Canada in the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC), where the court ruled that the Government of Canada had the same responsibilities to Métis and non-status Indigenous people as it did to those with status under the Indian Act. In 2016, again before the SCC, she represented the Chiefs of Ontario as intervenors in Chippewas of the Thames First Nation v. Enbridge Pipelines, a historic case regarding the role of administrative boards and tribunals in fulfilling the Crown’s constitutional duty to consult First Nations on matters directly affecting them. Early 2018 saw her representing the Mi’kmaq First Nation Assembly of Newfoundland before the Federal Court in Toronto over the eligibility criteria for the Qalipu Mi’kmaq First Nation Band. Inundated with applications for band membership, the Federal Government retroactively altered the evidentiary burden for satisfying the membership criteria, a move Ms. Lickers says created “unfair distinctions, such as one twin being declared a band member and the other not.” (The decision is pending.)

Although it took her a while to find this path, Ms. Lickers credits Queen’s for helping her do that. “I always felt at home at Queen’s Law,” she says. “The school did strive to provide a broader legal education, with a focus on social justice issues. It was a really welcoming environment where people genuinely supported each other.”   

Today, Ms. Lickers is making sure that others benefit from her Queen’s Law experience.

This story is written by Ian Coutts and originally appeared in the 2018 edition of Queen’s Law Reports.