An Indian in law: ‘They don’t know a damn thing about us’


From The Ring, Vol.2, No.16, Nov. 3, 1976, p.5.

Sharon Venne has no qualms about stating why she is attending UVic as one of the first two Native Indian students to be accepted by the Faculty of Law.

“I am here to learn the rules of the game, so I can return to my people and teach them the rules of how to function in the law, how to play the game.”

Venne, in an interview, said that Native Indians at a university usually have a strong sense of identity and purpose. …

“I must always be aware that I am trying to do something, not for me but for my people. I see our future in Canada as concerned with the law. I am going to return to my reserve and try to work there. The Indian people have the only laws contained under a specific act, and my people have to learn how to use these laws to advantage. Many Native customs may be able to fit into the common law.”

The attitudes of people at the university toward native people seem to be the same as those of the nation in general. “People always say that they know a lot about Native Indians but really they don’t know a damn thing about us,” said Venne. …

History is a familiar subject to Sharon. She graduated with honors at UVic in Canadian Indian History last spring, the first Native Indian in Canada to graduate with this specialty. …

The difficulties of being a Native student at a university are hard to pinpoint. “There was a time when it was a shock for Native students to be at a university, both for them and the Euro-Canadian students. Now the last bastions of Canadian universities, law and medical schools, have accepted Native students, it will cease to be such a shock.”

When asked if she had run into problems at any point in her post-secondary education, Sharon referred again to the problem of retaining a sense of identity. Many people expect Indians to deny their heritage, forwarding such comments as, “You’re not really an Indian, are you?” and seem shocked when it is freely admitted.

“Why should we deny it? Just because White people have developed the misconception that Native people want to have the same values and life-styles as them? The Native Indian perception of things hasn’t changed for a couple of hundred years. We know who we are.” …
Venne is a member of the Petequakey band, also the name of the reserve. It is the Cree name for the sound of the wings of Canada geese in flight.

Venne was a reporter for the Vancouver Sun for three summers, and after graduating with an honors BA she applied to and was accepted by three law schools. UVic was the final choice because she likes Victoria, prefers a small campus and already knew people who are going here.

“Mainly, though, it was because the UVic law department is developing good ideas, has innovative concepts.”


Since 1976, Sharon H. Venne has gone on to become an accomplished lawyer and internationally recognized advocate for the rights of Indigenous Peoples. She worked at the United Nations prior to the establishment of the Working Group on Indigenous Peoples in 1982. She has written numerous articles and edited materials related to the rights of Indigenous Peoples and has lectured in Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden, France, Italy, Hawaii, United States and Canada. She is an Indigenous Treaty person (Cree) and by marriage a member of the Blood Tribe within Treaty 7.


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Keywords: Indigenous, law

People: Sharon Venne

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