As an Associate Professor of Law at Lakehead University, Karen Drake says she’s currently living out the highlight of her career.
Over the years, she has practiced law in a variety of settings. However, Karen’s cultural identity has always been a driving force behind her success. As a Métis woman, she has been actively involved with the Aboriginal community for years.
We had the opportunity to connect with Karen to learn more about her career journey and how her culture has positively impacted her work.
Starting a career in law
Like many young professionals, Karen took some time to figure out what career she wanted to pursue. She was in the midst of completing a PhD in Philosophy when she decided to switch to law.
“I loved philosophy for so many reasons… constructing and analyzing arguments,” says Karen. “But I wanted to study something with practical applications, and I realized law was the perfect fit.”
A law career gave Karen the challenge she was looking for. Now, she is able to use the critical analysis skills from her philosophy studies to help people directly.
Naturally, Karen centered her focus on the Aboriginal community. She says her interest came from her own personal experiences as a Métis woman and the issues facing her community.
“I saw how [the Métis community] was struggling to assert their constitutional rights,” says Karen. “I wanted to be part of educating the Canadian public on what Aboriginal rights were.”
Early in her career, Karen worked in a wide range of company settings. In Ontario, she started in a big law firm in downtown Toronto as an Articling student and eventually moved into a smaller practice in Thunder Bay. This gave her a variety of perspectives on the profession and helped her decide where she wanted to take her career.
Throughout her various roles, Karen stayed focused on Labour and Employment Law, and narrowed her efforts on Aboriginal legal issues wherever possible. She eventually found a position that suited her perfectly – and it wasn’t in a law office.
Making an impact on the Aboriginal community
Today, Karen works as an Associate Professor at Lakehead University. She teaches two unique courses: Aboriginal Law and Indigenous Legal Traditional. These courses are mandatory at Lakehead University, and they play a crucial part in educating aspiring law professionals about Indigenous legal traditions.
“It’s important for students to learn this,” says Karen. “We need to recognize the laws of Indigenous people and help them figure out what Aboriginal rights are.”
Aboriginal laws are unique in that they are passed down in the forms of stories, songs, and even the land. In the past, many courts have tried to incorporate these laws into the system but failed due to lack of knowledge. Karen hopes that by educating the next generation of lawyers, we will see a positive change in the system.
In her role, Karen says she’s especially excited to see Aboriginal students come through Lakehead University’s law program. It’s a pivotal time in Canada for the Indigenous community, and Aboriginal professionals in law have the opportunity to make a huge impact in the way the government handles Aboriginal affairs.
Karen has learned a lot over the course of her career. Her hope is that more Aboriginal students in the future will get involved in the field of law and represent the Indigenous community. There’s a lot of work to be done, and although it will be challenging, it will be incredibly rewarding both for them and the communities they choose to help.
“This field offers so many opportunities,” says Karen. “It’s not just being a lawyer – it opens doors to politics, policy work, and even different types of law…Aboriginal issues are gaining more prominence, and we need Aboriginal people who understand our perspective to lead the way.”