Mtre Marie-Ève Bordeleau

Mtre Marie-Ève Bordeleau : Opening up to indigenous peoples

By Pierre-Luc Beauchesne, lawyer

(Article published on October 26, 2021)

A member of the Bar since 2007, Marie-Ève Bordeleau is the first Cree woman lawyer in Quebec. In 2018, she became Montreal’s first Commissioner of Indigenous Relations. Since the very beginning of her career, she’s always been a passionate advocate for improving the living conditions of Indigenous peoples in order to be part of the solution.

Ms. Bordeleau was born in Abitibi, where she spent the first years of her life before her family moved to Montreal’s Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood. With a mother born and raised in Montreal and a Cree father from the Waswanipi community, Ms. Bordeleau grew up with a foot in each culture and was taught the values of reconciliation and the desire to live together. After obtaining her law degree from Université Laval in 2005, she interned for six months in Fiji with the Pacific Center for Public Integrity, a non-governmental organization that helps local Indigenous communities. This experience helped her discover the personal and professional path she wanted to take and convinced her to become a lawyer to help her Indigenous brothers and sisters.

After passing the bar exam, she articled at Morin Murdoch, a firm that specializes in Aboriginal law, mainly advising Cree Nation organizations, often in the context of the implementation of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement and Paix des Braves Agreement. Ms. Bordeleau is extremely grateful to Guy Morin and Paul John Murdoch, who introduced her to a whole new world of law and guided her during her first years of practice, which became so decisive for her future career.

Between 2011 and 2013, she worked for the Quebec Native Women’s organization, where she acted as Justice and Public Safety Coordinator. In 2013, she opened her own office in Kahnawake. Still practicing Aboriginal law, she travels extensively in the communities to advise clients, both on legal and political issues. For several months, she also travels to the rest of Canada on behalf of the National Aboriginal Circle Against Family Violence and participates in the development of a toolkit for Aboriginal shelter workers.

In 2016, concerned about access to justice issues, she founded a mobile mediation clinic with Martha Montour, a Mohawk Nation lawyer: “Our clinic allowed us to travel to isolated, often disadvantaged communities that didn’t have access to legal services. We wanted to provide services that were culturally safe for clients.”

In 2018, Ms. Bordeleau left traditional law practice and was appointed Montreal’s Commissioner of Indigenous Relations within the Office of Government and Municipal Relations. As part of her duties, she advises elected officials on relations with Aboriginal communities and guides the City in the reconciliation process: “The City of Montreal wants to establish a government-to-government relationship with Aboriginal communities and the Assembly of First Nations, but also to implement programs and projects that have a real impact on Aboriginal urban life.” The good news is that her initial three-year term was made into a permanent position this year.

Ms. Bordeleau is particularly concerned about the increase in homelessness among the Indigenous population, especially since the beginning of the pandemic. However, she is proud of certain initiatives, including the Resilience Montreal shelter in Cabot Square, which welcomes people experiencing homelessness and was made possible thanks to the support of several partners, including the City of Montreal.

Bordeleau invites the lawyers of the Montreal section to be open-minded regarding the Aboriginal cause, learn about the history and realities of different Indigenous peoples, and above all, set aside their prejudices: “As Montrealers, we must all promote social cohabitation and continue to fight against racism. Improving the living conditions of different communities requires fighting systemic racism. Above all, we must be open to our fellow man and realize that we all have our biases.”

Ms. Bordeleau is currently on maternity leave following the birth of her baby boy Joseph uuteyaaw’h (which means “the period in the spring when the snow is hard in the morning but starts to melt in the afternoon” in Cree). When she returns to work in a few months, she will continue implementing the Strategy for Reconciliation with Indigenous peoples adopted by the City of Montreal on November 4, 2020. Her dearest wish is to continue meeting passionate people looking to make a difference in their community.