June 19, 2020

Class of 2020: Social inequalities fuelled Amelia Crowshoe's passion to study law and find her own voice

Former Stampede Indian Princess develops compelling perspectives on Indigenous and Canadian legal orders

She knows it was the right thing — the only thing — to do in these pandemic times. But still ...

For Amelia Crowshoe, the COVID-19 pandemic has ripped two significant events from her life’s playbook. One is convocation, where crossing the stage in the Jack Simpson Gym would have marked the end of a tough three years spent toiling over the complexities of Canadian law. The other is the cancellation of the Calgary Stampede — a tradition that her family has honoured, and been active in, for five generations.

“In terms of what’s going on, I totally support the postponement (all graduating students from this spring will be invited to cross the stage next fall, or when it is safe to do so) and cancellation of all these major traditions,” says the 2012 Stampede Indian Princess and soon-to-be articling student at MLT Aikins.

“That said, since lockdown, I’ve certainly had moments where I’ve felt like I’m all dressed up with nowhere to go.”

  • Photo above: From left: Amelia Crowshoe, Aron Csaplaros, Erin Colwell, Eric Mosley and coach David Laidlaw attend the Kawaskimhon Aboriginal Law Moot in Winnipeg.

We could say “such is the life of a princess,” but Crowshoe is no ordinary royal member. Sure, during her reign as Stampede royalty, she had a vast wardrobe — of hat tins, jingle dresses and beaded crowns — but her grandmother, Rose Crowshoe, is quick to remind Amelia she wasn’t a typical little girl on the Piikani Nation with a head stuffed with princess dreams. In fact, her grandmother says when Amelia was asked at her kindergarten graduation what she wanted to be when she grew up, she promptly replied, “lawyer.”

Place of empowerment sought for Indigenous people

“Law,” admits Amelia, “yes, law, that has always been a dream of mine,” explaining her exposure to social inequalities came from heartbreaking proximity. Too many members of her family on the Piikani Nation (near Pincher Creek) have gone missing, were murdered, or were “subjects of an unreliable justice system," she says. "I think from a very early age, I knew I wanted to learn the rules, especially around governance and Indigenous legal principles, in order to see how we could develop those alongside the Canadian common law."

Achieving a strong corporate governance structure "that can help First Nations develop contracts and protect their interests so that they have the right to determine what’s good for the community is what I want to do,” explains Crowshoe, BA’09, JD’20. “I want to see our people coming from a place of empowerment, as opposed to trying to subscribe to a narrow federal funding structure that doesn’t necessarily build a long-term solution for many of our problems.”

From left: Amelia Crowshoe's aunt, Anita Crowshoe; great-grandfather Joe Crowshoe, Sr.; grandmother Rosemary Crowshoe; grandfather Reg Crowshoe; and Amelia (front, right) when she was three or four years old.

From left: Amelia Crowshoe's aunt, Anita Crowshoe; great-grandfather Joe Crowshoe, Sr.; grandmother Rosemary Crowshoe; grandfather Reg Crowshoe; and Amelia (front, right) when she was three or four years old.

Photo, Amelia Crowshoe

Such pragmatism, and the “ability to convey complex legal principles to a wide range of audiences in ways they can understand, was always evident when Amelia spoke,” says Drew Lafond, her sessional instructor of Indigenous business law who will serve as her principal when Crowshoe articles this year at MLT Aikins.

“I still remember how well she did during the oral advocacy portion of the course, which consisted of making a business pitch to community leaders for an on-reserve renewable energy project," says Lafond. 

She made a lasting impression on the community leaders and demonstrated a strong interest in the area of Indigenous economic development.

But Crowshoe is quick to say she doesn’t want to be seen as “an Aboriginal person who will practice Aboriginal law,” but rather as “an Indigenous lawyer who will practise law, but also have an Indigenous focus.That’s what attracted me to article at MLT Aikins ... I felt like they would give me the freedom to develop into the kind of lawyer that I want to be, which is likely corporate, but I do have a huge interest in intellectual property and Internet law and ...”

In listing all the areas of law that still fascinate this new graduate, Crowshoe returns to one of her most memorable courses, which was the class on internet law by associate professor Dr. Emily Laidlaw, PhD. One of the papers Crowshoe wrote for this course focused on “how the digital divide affects Indigenous communities and what a massive barrier it is when First Nations communities don’t have connectivity,” says Crowshoe. “It impedes their ability to participate in our economy. It’s just one more barrier in how Indigenous people can, or cannot, participate in the world.”

Shimmer of prairies buried deep in soul

It was precisely the lack of an internet connection that kept Crowshoe in Calgary during the first phase of the COVID-19 lockdown. “I really wanted to go home, but I had a stack of papers and finals to think about, so I was forced to stay where connectivity was reliable,” she says, adding her grandfather, Reg Crowshoe — UCalgary senator and Traditional Knowledge Keeper in Residence — finally upgraded the reserve’s Wi-Fi capacity, allowing her to return to the Piikani Nation.

Surrounded by horses and a large extensive family, it is from the Piikani Nation that Crowshoe will begin articling in June. Although she’s divided her time between Calgary and the First Nation since she was little, when she refers to “home,” it’s the shimmer of these prairies, the smell of sage in the air, that’s buried deep in her soul.

“This land,” she says, “and my mother and grandparents, who were huge heroes of mine, these are the anchors in my life." 

They gave me a strong sense of identity and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

She adds: “Oh yes, and the Stampede. Having to attend more than 400 events that year (including two trips to China where she jingle danced across the Great Wall), and speaking to massive crowds, gave me confidence that I didn’t have before and it certainly helped me find my voice.”

An articulate voice is exactly what Crowshoe brought to assistant professor Robert Hamilton’s Indigenous Peoples and the Law class, to which she returned earlier this year as a guest lecturer. “Amelia’s innovative perspectives on the relationship between Indigenous and Canadian legal orders helped shape the discourse in the class for the remainder of the semester,” explains Hamilton, who taught this course to Crowshoe earlier in the program.

“Part of what made her such a unique and compelling law student was her ability to bridge these two distinct legal orders, make connections between them, and help people see ways to hold them in conversation.”

Student's leadership valuable to peers and community

Building inclusivity was another one of Crowshoe’s attributes, says Hamilton, adding she helped create the student-run Faculty of Indigenous Law Club, becoming its president this past year. Whether it was organizing a conference or simply creating a social space for students, Crowshoe’s influence on the Faculty of Law was felt by many.

She was also a valuable member of the faculty’s Indigenous Strategy Committee, where she liaised between faculty, students, alumni and practitioners, “which will help us meet the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Calls to Action,” says Hamilton.

“All of this speaks to the impact Amelia has had in building a community for Indigenous law students,” he says. “She has helped give them the opportunity to learn from each other about how they might move into the professional sphere and diversify the legal community through their participation. This type of leadership will be very valuable in Amelia’s career and to the broader community.”

  • Campfire Chats: Join us online on June 19 to honour National Indigenous Peoples Day. Learn more
  • Read more: Check out many more profiles of the outstanding members of Class of 2020. And follow the graduate positivity on social media by following #ucalgarygrad