Most people move away for university and don't necessarily move back. Sara Mainville isn't most people.
Not only did she return to her home community, but she did so in order to assist with some of the daily struggles common to First Nations populations.
Mainville, who earned her BA in public administration and management arts from the University of Lethbridge in 1991, is from Couchiching First Nation in northwest Ontario. She now works as a lawyer and a legal consultant focusing on cases of indigenous law, environmental protection and community development.
"I've always been looking at everyday ways to try to strengthen our community," Mainville explains. "I grew up knowing about treaty rights and I was always told that we were very rich people. But the actual reality was that we were all living in poverty. We're still faced with a lot of those social factors that have become typical of a First Nation setting."
Much of her current work involves direct contact with the both the federal and Ontario governments to promote the Anishinaabe (Ojibway) community's rights, in regards to mining and general land use. Mainville says there are many challenges within the greater effort but, because of the younger generation's increased knowledge of the issues, there is definite hope for change.
"I see a lot of the younger people coming up with a real awareness of their environment," she says. "I think they have a better understanding of what stewardship is, what sustainability is."
Mainville knew she wanted to assist her community by attempting to eliminate barriers, so she decided to pursue an education. This wasn't common in the Couchiching First Nation when she was younger but she says there are a lot more people attending post-secondary school now.
"The education gap between my First Nation and the neighbouring municipality has really narrowed. I tried to create a path for other people to that," she says.
Mainville, who went on to earn a law degree at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., and then a master of law at the University of Toronto before returning to northwest Ontario permanently, still credits her time at the U of L with helping to focus her career on social responsibility.
"I've kept in touch with some of the other alumni from Lethbridge and I think we all share the same values. It set the standard for me individually. We all went back to our communities and focused on community development, especially in the corporate field."
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