Oct. 27, 2021

Lawyer so grateful that mentors found her when she attended UCalgary

2021 Top 40 Under 40: Sarah Sinclair, BA’10
Sarah Sinclair
Sarah Sinclair Jared Sych, Avenue magazine

Not seeking fame or glory, Sarah Sinclair, BA’10, wants only a more fair and honourable relationship between Canada and its Indigenous people. The 38-year-old lawyer is a trusted ally and tireless advocate for justice who is driven to create systemic change within our legal system.

Sinclair is a lawyer for Sahwoo mohkaak tsi ma taas (Blackfoot for “Before Being Judged”), the Indigenous justice program at Calgary Legal Guidance. 

What do you miss about student life? 

I miss crafting my schedule so that I had four- or five-day weekends and didn’t begin my day until after noon. I do not miss being broke, procrastinating constantly, hangovers, three-hour classes or living in garbage apartments off campus.  

Do you remember any classes or professors who were exceptional? 

Stefania Forlini was a formative, demanding and fascinating professor. She was perhaps the only professor to ever inspire me to purchase and read a textbook on my own time because of how passionate she was as a lecturer. Among lots of other things, she taught me about interconnectivity, a concept that is very important to my current work and personal life. 

Where did you hang out on campus? 

I spent a lot of time sleeping on those circular benches on the second level of Mac Hall, close to the Native Students’ Centre (as it was known back then). Once I got brave enough to go into the Native Students’ Centre, I hung out there non-stop. The very first time I went in, Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes taught me how to smudge.  

What is satisfying and frustrating about working with Calgary Legal Guidance (CLG)? 

It is frustrating that the more I learn about and practice in the legal system, the less faith I have in its ability to provide justice to anyone, let alone people who are marginalized like many of my Indigenous clients. It is satisfying that CLG and other Indigenous-serving organizations in Calgary are committed to finding justice for Indigenous people despite the huge amount of work involved. It’s a massive goal, to try and achieve justice, but the work has been going on for decades and it’s accelerating exponentially. 

If you were to go back to school, what would you take? 

In real life, when I go back to school it will be to do a master’s degree in law. But, if I had to go back to the beginning and couldn’t choose law, I’d choose something physical like cabinetmaking or butchering.

 What do you wish you knew more about? 

I wish I knew more about homesteading skills like sewing, canning, hunting, fishing and building with logs. I can half-ass all of that stuff, but I will completely die of exposure a week into the zombie apocalypse ... and I’d like to last longer than that. 

Why is mentorship important? 

Every student should have at least two mentors — an older student and someone in their desired profession — to help them avoid the biggest pitfalls and find the best paths to success. Before my mentors found me, I felt like I needed to figure everything out for myself. I was just blundering around like a donkey in the dark: needlessly, head-scratchingly, dumbly.  

When you are not working, what do you do? 

When I’m not working, I’m singing in the Calgary Bach Society choir, playing dodgeball and videogames (Stardew Valley is the current obsession). During the summer, I camp all the time, and, during the winter, I watch the Flames and dream about camping. 

What’s your favourite board game? 

My favourite board game is Spirit Island, a co-operative game where you play as a spirit inhabiting an island being colonized. The theme is great, but aside from that it’s absolutely the most well-written game I’ve ever played. 

What are you reading these days? 

I mostly read escapist novels, books by Stephen King, Anne Rice, Robert Jordan and Michael Crichton. Once in a while, I’ll get a woodworking or gardening book out of the library and pretend I’m going to learn something in my free time, but it’s really just about the pictures. 

With files from Avenue Magazine.