Bencher Profile Series: Cora Voyageur, PhD
As a public representative Bencher, Dr. Cora Voyageur brings several important lenses to the work of the Board at the Law Society of Alberta.
Cora is a fervent believer in the power of education, both in her own life and as a catalyst for supporting equitable change in society. Cora is a professor in the Sociology Department at the University of Calgary. She earned her Master of Education in Educational Foundations and her PhD in Sociology from the University of Alberta. Her ongoing research focuses on the Indigenous experience in Canada including women’s issues, employment and leadership, community and economic development, and health. She teaches a variety of Criminology courses and courses about Indigenous life in Canada and around the world. Cora is an award-winning researcher and teacher, and serves on national research boards.
“As a sociologist, I look at things such as power, race and gender and the intersectionality of all of those. Even amongst lawyers, looking at the experiences of women versus men, the differences between Caucasians and all others and looking at the privilege that is afforded to many people. The issue of power is central to the study of sociology, of who experiences what and why.”
Cora is a Dene woman from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation at Fort Chipewyan, Alberta. She is an avid writer, currently working on her 10th book and having authored 65 academic articles and book chapters. Cora is co-editor of Hidden in Plain Sight: Contributions of Indigenous People to Canadian Identity and Culture Volumes I and II published the University of Toronto Press. She is also the author of Firekeepers of the 21st Century: First Nations Female Chiefs and My Heroes have Always been Indians.
Since her appointment as a public representative Bencher at the end of December 2018, Cora has learned a lot about the roles at the Law Society and has contributed to the strategic initiatives underway.
“Dealing with the issue of fairness and justice are two things that I’m particularly interested in. Hearing people discuss situations and working towards a just outcome is something I am proud of. While people do not necessarily agree, they have different perspectives and ways of looking at things.”
Cora was involved in a professional capacity with committee work related to the initial launch of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Twelve years later, she was grateful to weigh in on the decision-making process related to Indigenous cultural competency education for Alberta lawyers arising from the TRC Calls to Action.
“People have ideas about Indigenous people that are antiquated. I think it is important for lawyers to know the history and get to know how fulsome and vibrant the Indigenous community is. There is a lot of misinformation and opinions about Indigenous people. The difference between opinions and the facts are two different things.”
Cora is also encouraged to see lawyers and students coming forward through the “My Experience” project to share their stories of struggle with discrimination and stereotyping in the legal profession. As a researcher, Cora recognizes the importance of gathering this information in pursuing future action and change.
“These are issues that need to be addressed. Coming forward and telling your story about what it is like to be an Indigenous lawyer when people think you’re there because you’re the defendant instead of the advocate.”
While the Indigenous cultural competency education and the experiences shared through the “My Experience” project may lead to feelings of discomfort and self-reflection, Cora believes this is where the best learning begins.
“When you know better, you do better. What I tell my students is that you are going to feel uncomfortable in my class and that is when you are going to learn. Otherwise, you are just in this little cocoon, surrounded by people who think the same way you do.”
While systemic change has not been an easy process and there is still lots of work left to do, Cora sees first-hand that things are changing. For instance, she points to Indigenous entrepreneurship on the rise and that representation at post-secondary institutions continues to increase.
“We have contributions to make that help strengthen the social fabric of society. In my job as a professor and in all that I do, I value the Seven Grandfather Teachings of wisdom, love, respect, bravery, honesty, humility and truth. It is a way of life. By getting away from the traditional model of running the world, to one where you value different perspectives, the bottom-line increases. It’s a whole big world out there and we all deserve to play an important part in it.”