Sara Mainville Discusses the Opportunities and Challenges of UNDRIP in interview with APTN’s Face to Face

JFK Law LLP is pleased to announce managing partner Sara Mainville’s feature appearance in the latest installment of APTN’s “Face to Face”. Sara Mainville who is Anishinaabekwe, a member of Couchiching First Nation, and the Managing Partner at JFK Law, joined host Dennis Ward for the recent filming in Winnipeg. In the interview, Sara shared her insights on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (“UNDRIP”), Indigenous participation in entertainment law, and mentorship of young Indigenous lawyers.

Opportunities and Challenges Presented by UNDRIP

In the interview, Sara shared her view on UNDRIP, and highlighted the following:

  • Recognition of Indigenous Rights: Sara emphasized that UNDRIP was designed to welcome Indigenous peoples into the realm of human rights, with self-determination being a key aspect. The Declaration aimed to recognize this right and place obligations on states to work towards fulfillment.
  • Protection of Indigenous Gains: Sara also touched upon the need for UNDRIP in the sphere of international law, to protect the advancements made by Indigenous peoples. Sara pointed to the example of New Zealand, where significant progress had been made, but without adequate protection, those gains can be jeopardized by changes in government or public opinion. In Canada, while there is constitutional recognition of Aboriginal rights, common law courts still carry some colonial weight. UNDRIP offers the potential to open doors and overcome these challenges.
  • Progress and Criticisms in Canada: British Columbia became the first jurisdiction in Canada to adopt UNDRIP, through the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act.[1] However, Sara acknowledged that progress has been met with criticism. Governments often take self-serving steps, and it is mostly through litigation that advancements have been made.
  • UNDRIP as an Opportunity: While some critics view UNDRIP as a threat to Indigenous rights, Sara sees it as an opportunity. For example, it is a tool for overcoming the colonial s. 35 test for proving Aboriginal rights. She emphasized that UNDRIP creates new avenues for recognition through legislation, as demonstrated by Bill C-92 and Bill C-15, which provide tools for Indigenous peoples to bring about meaningful changes to government policies.
  • Misconceptions and State Accountability: Sara addressed some of the common misconceptions surrounding UNDRIP, including the belief that the original draft should be followed. She clarified that while the original draft may provide a more comprehensive framework, the adopted declaration has real teeth and serves as a legitimate tool within the UN system. She highlighted the importance of utilizing UNDRIP to hold states accountable.

Sara also expressed her disappointment over the recent allegations that Canada and Australia were working together to weaken UNDRIP, although she stated that she was not altogether surprised by these shameful acts.

Further Insights

During the interview, Sara shared personal experiences and reflections on her journey as an Indigenous lawyer. She expressed her passion for law, citing the idea of self-government as a driving force. Despite being the only Indigenous law student in her year and one of the few in the entire law school, Sara found inspiration in Indigenous leaders like Leroy Little Bear.

Sara also discussed her initial interest in criminal law but found herself drawn to environmental law. She highlighted the importance of storytelling and entertainment law in creating change, particularly in Indigenous narratives. Recognizing the need for collective ownership over stories and the development of protocols, she expressed her support for Jennifer Podemski’s vision in recognizing Indigenous law and concepts of ownership in the entertainment industry.

As the Managing Partner of JFK Law, Sara acknowledged the significance of her role in shaping the vision of the firm and creating concrete capacity for First Nations towards self-determination. She emphasized the importance of promoting other Indigenous lawyers and fostering their growth and leadership.

In terms of legal matters at the forefront of Aboriginal law, Sara highlighted the recent R v White and Montour case in Quebec, which has the potential to be a game-changer for Aboriginal rights under Section 35 of the Constitution.[2] This case could lead to greater proactive action from Canada in recognizing and respecting Aboriginal treaty rights. For more information on R v White and Montour, please see JFK’s blog post.


The interview with Sara provided valuable insights into the opportunities and challenges presented by UNDRIP for Aboriginal rights and Indigenous peoples in Canada. It emphasized the need for continued efforts to harness the potential of UNDRIP and work towards the recognition and fulfillment of Aboriginal rights through legislation, negotiation, and the utilization of available tools. Additionally, Sara’s personal journey as an Indigenous lawyer shed light on the importance of representation, mentorship, and the diverse areas of law that contribute to advancing Indigenous rights and self-determination.

To watch Sara Mainville’s Face to Face interview in full, please visit APTN News.

If you are interested in learning more about the promises and pitfalls of UNDRIP in Canada, be sure to visit JFK’s UNDRIP Blog Series.


[1] Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Act, SBC 2019, c 44

[2] R v White and Montour, 2023 QCSC 4154