BC’s 1st First Nations woman judge

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The appointment of Marion Buller, BC’s first female First Nations judge, to the Provincial Court of British Columbia was an important milestone in BC history. Today, as part of the series profiling four of the Court’s women judges whose appointments were “firsts”, eNews features retired judge, Chief Commissioner, and now Chancellor Marion Buller.

Judge Marion Buller was the first First Nations woman to be appointed a judge in British Columbia when she was appointed to the BC Provincial Court on October 11, 1994. Judge Buller retired from the Court in 2016 to become Chief Commissioner of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. On January 1, 2022, she became Chancellor of the University of Victoria.

Chancellor Buller is a member of the Mistawasis Nehiyawak, a Cree First Nation in Saskatchewan. Her paternal grandfather had to give up his “Indian” status so that he and his family could live and work off-reserve. This also meant that his children – Chancellor Buller’s father, aunt, and uncle - would not have to attend an Indian residential school. Chancellor Buller did not live on the reserve. She grew up in Toronto, Ontario. However, she spent many happy summers visiting family and friends in Saskatchewan. Chancellor Buller still visits Saskatchewan regularly and remains an active Mistawasis Nehiyawak member.

Chancellor Buller obtained a bachelor’s degree in anthropology (1975) and a law degree (1987) from the University of Victoria. She was admitted to the BC bar in 1988 and practised administrative, criminal, and human rights law. She acted as Commission Counsel for the Cariboo-Chilcotin Justice Inquiry and served as president and a director of the Indigenous Bar Association of Canada, as a member of the BC Police Commission, and on the boards of the Law Courts Education Society and the Law Foundation of British Columbia.

As a judge she was instrumental in establishing BC’s first First Nations Court in New Westminster in 2006 and contributed to the opening of the Aboriginal Family Healing Court there in 2016. In 2012, she was given a Distinguished Alumni Award by the University of Victoria Faculty of Social Science.

She retired from the Court in 2016 on being appointed Chief Commissioner of the National Inquiry. The National Inquiry issued its 2-volume report “Reclaiming Power and Place: The Final Report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls” in June 2019.

Chancellor Buller received the Rosemary Brown Award for Women in 2019 - an award honouring a BC-based woman or group who promotes the values and ideals of equity and social justice championed by the late Rosemary Brown, a long-serving member of the BC Legislature who also served as Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission. In 2021 Chancellor Buller received an honourary Doctor of Laws degree from Thompson Rivers University.

Chancellor Buller says she treasures her years on the BC Provincial Court bench and is always delighted to see other Indigenous people appointed to the Court.