Photo of Fallon Melander, LAO Aboriginal Justice Strategy

Fallon Melander talks about her history and the importance of Aboriginal History Month for all Canadians

I’m Ojibway. I come from a line of women who are survivors of displacement. And despite what they went through—maybe even because of it—I believe that we all need to see, learn about and celebrate the positive impact that Aboriginal Peoples have on this country.

For centuries, my community, and for decades, my family, has fought back against displacement and imposed systems that have caused great harm.

My family and community have been part of a movement to oppose these systems.

I am carrying on that legacy by working for an organization that has committed to recognizing the value of Aboriginal Peoples, addressing systemic issues, and supporting Aboriginal-led processes and programs.

Passion for access to justice and for changing the system

I am just coming up on my fifth anniversary with Legal Aid Ontario.

I began my career here as a fresh lawyer ready to take on the world. I was fired up with a passion for access to justice and the prospect of working within the system to help change it for the better.

Looking back, I don’t know if I knew how much responsibility I was going to be carrying on my shoulders—but hindsight is 20/20. I did know that the previous counsel, who had launched LAO’s Aboriginal Justice Strategy, left me with big shoes to fill.

Fortunately, some strong leaders within the organization took me under their wings and provided guidance when needed. More and more, I have had a seat at the table, and have been able to work with a dedicated team of staff and service providers throughout this province.

Highlight of my career

I think the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has really helped people to see the benefit in education and renewed relationships.

I’ve tried to share that benefit at LAO.

One of the highlights of my career to date has been travelling around the province and meeting with all our staff to educate and discuss how we can work with the First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities to build relationships and better services.

From these meetings, I have been able to see a real shift in the relationship between LAO and the Aboriginal community as well as a commitment to change.

On a personal level…

I gave birth to a beautiful daughter last March.

I was very stressed about leaving work for a year after my baby was born, but once she was here I knew that my true calling was to be her Mom.

I am proud to say that she is the first generation in my family since my great grandmother who is growing up knowing exactly who she is—a person proud to be Anishnawbe. We have been drumming and singing with her since she was a small baby.

Let’s change the conversation

At Legal Aid Ontario, and in the media, most of the conversation about Aboriginal, Inuit and Métis peoples is limited to news about murdered or missing women, over-representation in the justice system, the suicide crisis among young people and other tragedies.

These are very important issues. But often we forget to celebrate the positive contribution and resiliency of Aboriginal Peoples.

I think it’s important for all Canadians to celebrate Aboriginal History Month to celebrate this country’s strong and proud First Nation, Métis and Inuit communities.

This month, I hope Canadians also take the time to learn about our drumming, our singing, our dancing and our ceremony. To recognize our history and to see our strength.

That would make Canada better for all of us.

Fallon Melander

About Fallon Melander

Fallon Melander is Ojibway from Wikwemikong First Nation and is leading LAO’s Aboriginal Justice Strategy.

Before joining LAO, Fallon worked at the University of Ottawa’s Community Legal Clinic and articled at Aboriginal Legal Services of Toronto.

Fallon is committed to providing access to justice for Aboriginal people and communities and is an active member of the Indigenous Bar Association and the Canadian Lawyers Abroad Dare to Dream program.