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I am Aboriginal, I am a lawyer - ask me anything


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#1 serdog

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Posted 20 March 2016 - 10:26 AM

Hi all,
I am pretty sure that every Aboriginal applicant in the last 5 years knows that I am willing to answer questions and that I am active in the applicate tread but here is my ask me anything. Remember in terms of the hard core practice management question we have experienced lawyer I'm new and set up a practice but I can answer from an aboriginal prepsective question on law school and articling .

Edited by serdog, 20 March 2016 - 10:27 AM.

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#2 Diplock

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Posted 20 March 2016 - 07:57 PM

Very cool! More AMAs!

 

Since no one had ponied up a question yet (get it? ponied up??) I'll at least start.

 

How has legal practice affected (if at all) your Aboriginal identity? That is, I can imagine a person who maybe felt only lightly connected to their Aboriginal heritage (having done my share of Gladue submissions I've seen it) but having been admitted to law school on that basis forged more or a connection. I can also imagine someone drifting farther from it in the process of learning and practicing mainly "western" law.

 

Did you go to law school with any explicit intention to practice law in a way that incorporated Aboriginal issues? Did you end up doing so?

 

EDIT: Also, as a suggestion rather than a question, if I'm not mistaken you practice in a smaller community? Maybe you could talk more about that too, because there seems to be a lot of discussion here about major urban centres but not a lot about smaller markets.


Edited by Diplock, 20 March 2016 - 08:05 PM.

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#3 PerniciousLaw

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Posted 20 March 2016 - 08:39 PM

[...] Since no one had ponied up a question yet (get it? ponied up??) I'll at least start. [...]

 

 

You shall now be called Diplock the Comedian :) 



#4 MbGirl

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Posted 20 March 2016 - 10:31 PM

Background information about me which may give you insight as to why I asked the  following questions.

I will be attending UVIC this fall.  I am Metis from Manitoba  and a single parent of a 3 year old. ( I thought I had a supportive spouse but that has changed and will now be going on my own which is an added stress). 

I am extremely nervous about moving across the country to attend school but also excited for the whole experience. 

At this point I am not sure which type of law I would be interested in. In my undergrad I focused mainly on courses related to criminal justice and deviance and Indigenous issues.

The last 2 years I have worked as a research assistant on research that focused on treaty and Aboriginal rights.  

This research as had a profound impact on me and has partly driven my desire to go to law school.

 

Can you tell me about your experience at UVIC?  

What kind of supports do they have for Indigenous students?

How active is the Indigenous community on campus and in the city in general?  Do they have a lot of cultural activities for students/children?

Did you participate in the Co-op program and if so what kind of work did you do? 

When you entered law school did you know what kind of law you wanted to practice and did you end up doing that type of law when you started practicing?  

When you finished law school did you have a hard time finding work?  Did you stay in Victoria or move out of province? 

What's the best advice you can give an Indigenous person entering Law school? 

Did you take any Indigenous law courses while at UVIC? If so do you incorporate anything you learned from them in your job as a Lawyer? 

How did you pay for law school and did you have a lot of debt when you were done? What are the bursaries like at UVIC? 

 

 

I will probably have more questions once you answer those ones.  I want to thank you in advance for making this post and answering my questions. 


Edited by MbGirl, 20 March 2016 - 10:34 PM.

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#5 serdog

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Posted 21 March 2016 - 11:09 AM

Can you tell me about your experience at UVIC?

I enjoyed Uvic the law school is a nice little commuity and everone is generally supportive. I found the course selection a limited but workable.

 

 

What kind of supports do they have for Indigenous students?

There is a cultural support coordinator who works with the associate dean(who is now my first year con law prof and very very good) this supports include meals, cultural activity, toutoring or just someone to talk to about life and law etc.  

 

 

How active is the Indigenous community on campus and in the city in general?  Do they have a lot of cultural activities for students/children?

I mainly stayed in the law school but there is a long house with program and a Metis association in Victoria

 

 

Did you participate in the Co-op program and if so what kind of work did you do?

I did not participate but I did do a co-op term in New Zealand with the Maori Land Court and Waitagi Tribunal

 

 

When you entered law school did you know what kind of law you wanted to practice and did you end up doing that type of law when you started practicing?

When I started I wanted to practice Aboriginal Litigation(I know me and everyone else ) I however fell in love with criminal defense work during Law Centre and part of my Articles with the local Staff Lawyer Legal Aid so I hope to set up a practice in Criminal Law with perhaps taking a few Aboriginal law files(NOTE: this is possible because of my local experience and connection this is like NOT an option generally)

 

 

When you finished law school did you have a hard time finding work?  Did you stay in Victoria or move out of province?

I left as I had always planned on. I was lucky and landed the first articling Job I applied for.

 


What's the best advice you can give an Indigenous person entering Law school?

Stay strong, be Brave, wait for the signs(or perhaps outlines :P) ok seriously it be yourself know who you are as a Indigenous Person and never let anyone use it as a weapon against you, AND do PLSNP so valuable

 

 

Did you take any Indigenous law courses while at UVIC? If so do you incorporate anything you learned from them in your job as a Lawyer?

Question  Indigenous Law or Canadian Law impact Indigenous People ( Aboriginal Law)

 

 

How did you pay for law school and did you have a lot of debt when you were done? What are the bursaries like at UVIC?

I never applied for bursaries as I was able to cover my degree between First Nations funding and a loan from my RRSP, you can e-mail the contact at UVIC they are helpful



#6 t3ctonics

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Posted 21 March 2016 - 12:54 PM

I'll follow this thread and also throw in my two cents when questions are of general application. I'm a native lawyer in a larger firm. I can generally "pass" - most people don't think I'm native - so I'm sure my experiences differ from many. For example, I've been privy to many a conversation that I'm sure the people involved wouldn't have been having if they knew there was a native person in the room.

 

As an aside, I, like most urban natives I know, have no connection to the culture, history, or spirituality of my ancestors. For example, my great-grandmother on my mother's side was a medicine woman, but raised my grandmother and her siblings to be as white as possible. My grandmother continued the tradition, and I can't blame her. Life is much, much easier when you can fit in.

 

 

Very cool! More AMAs!

 

Since no one had ponied up a question yet (get it? ponied up??) I'll at least start.

 

How has legal practice affected (if at all) your Aboriginal identity? That is, I can imagine a person who maybe felt only lightly connected to their Aboriginal heritage (having done my share of Gladue submissions I've seen it) but having been admitted to law school on that basis forged more or a connection. I can also imagine someone drifting farther from it in the process of learning and practicing mainly "western" law.

 

Did you go to law school with any explicit intention to practice law in a way that incorporated Aboriginal issues? Did you end up doing so?

 

EDIT: Also, as a suggestion rather than a question, if I'm not mistaken you practice in a smaller community? Maybe you could talk more about that too, because there seems to be a lot of discussion here about major urban centres but not a lot about smaller markets.

 

To be completely honest, I really didn't know anything meaningful about the history of the relationship between First Nations and Canada before law school. I had the superficial knowledge that Europeans came in and gradually spread across the continent, and that reserves were set aside. I knew about residential schools, and that native people had generally been mistreated by the Canadian government. That was pretty much it. 

 

Law school really opened my eyes as to how and why things are the way they are now, and the things I learned have helped me to explain to people that are as ignorant as I used to be why reserves still exist, why the Crown owes certain duties to First Nations, and why native people (or anyone really) can't just pick themselves up by their own bootstraps.

 

I really haven't made more of a connection with my heritage, but that's because I don't feel like it is my heritage - I was basically raised white, as were my parents and grandparents. If you ask any of my family members, including those by marriage, what their heritage or ethnicity is, they will all just say they are Canadian (and there is some significant variation of descent). I am over 3/4 native by blood, but I just wasn't raised in any of the various native cultures from which I am descended. Even if I wanted to get in touch with "my" culture/spirituality/tradition, it would be entirely false - I even think it would amount to cultural appropriation. I've seen people do it before, and it's always awkward and awful. Your culture is the one you grow up in, regardless of blood.

 

As to practice, I have never had any particular intention of practicing Aboriginal law. I have worked on a few Aboriginal law files, but it's not really something I focus on. My involvement with Aboriginal law has primarily been incidental to my general civil litigation practice, though I have assisted another lawyer who does primarily practice Aboriginal law on a few occasions. It can be very interesting stuff, and I wouldn't mind doing more of it, but I'm busy enough with other things that I'm not planning to seek out Aboriginal law files/clients.


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#7 FunnyLawName

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Posted 23 March 2016 - 09:02 AM

I did my research for my MA looking at access to justice for Aboriginal groups across Canada. Mainly I assessed two programs: The Aboriginal Courtwork Program and The Aboriginal Justice Strategy. My paper basically outlined the fact that these programs don't take in to account the cultural aspects of Aboriginal justice, but only seek to connect for people to the justice system that historically hasn't been kind to Aboriginal people. 

 

Anyways I just wanted to get your perspective on how the idea of Aboriginal culture (legal or otherwise) was integrated in to your education, or in practice. I know UVic is a bit of an outlier in terms of their commitment to this field of thought (insofar as they've demonstrated a lot of commitment to it) so I was also hoping you could comment on if you think Aboriginal culture is adequately addressed in legal education and practice as a whole. 

 

Also, looking forward what types of legal issues are going to be the most pertinent in the future that I can try to incorporate in to my legal education. I suspect land claims will be a big thing going forward (and currently), natural resource ownership as well. What types of classes will give me the type of skill set required to make an impact with these issues. I'm attending the University of Ottawa for anyone who sees this and can actually suggest specific courses.

 

The poster above me noted that they didn't intend to practice Aboriginal law. I was wondering what the general feeling in these communities is regarding legal professionals. Did you ever feel an obligation to return to your community and help with local issues and community development?



#8 Erebus

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Posted 23 March 2016 - 09:26 AM

I did not participate but I did do a co-op term in New Zealand with the Maori Land Court and Waitagi Tribunal

 

How was your experience at the Tribunal? Is this placement only available to UVic students through the co-op program?



#9 t3ctonics

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Posted 23 March 2016 - 10:36 AM

Anyways I just wanted to get your perspective on how the idea of Aboriginal culture (legal or otherwise) was integrated in to your education, or in practice. I know UVic is a bit of an outlier in terms of their commitment to this field of thought (insofar as they've demonstrated a lot of commitment to it) so I was also hoping you could comment on if you think Aboriginal culture is adequately addressed in legal education and practice as a whole. 

 

Also, looking forward what types of legal issues are going to be the most pertinent in the future that I can try to incorporate in to my legal education. I suspect land claims will be a big thing going forward (and currently), natural resource ownership as well. What types of classes will give me the type of skill set required to make an impact with these issues. I'm attending the University of Ottawa for anyone who sees this and can actually suggest specific courses.

 

I went to U of S, and I learned a ton about Aboriginal culture. Every first year class I took included an Aboriginal component. We also participated in a mock sentencing circle, which was a great experience.

 

I do have some issues with how Aboriginal justice is treated, in that we are told that certain things are part of our culture when they aren't. For example, the sentencing circles we use in Canada (or at least Saskatchewan) actually come from New Zealand. I recall a story about a Cree elder who was at a sentencing circle and who asked what was going on. She was told the sentencing circle was part of her culture, and she just said "Not my culture." Many Canadian First Nations do have a tradition of healing circles, but the process and purpose are different from sentencing circles, which - while beneficial in many ways, in my view - really just co-opt a superficially traditional form as part of the standard punitive criminal justice system.

 

The poster above me noted that they didn't intend to practice Aboriginal law. I was wondering what the general feeling in these communities is regarding legal professionals. Did you ever feel an obligation to return to your community and help with local issues and community development?

 

I don't really have an Aboriginal community. No one in my family has lived on reserve since the 1920s, and from the mid-1940s until this decade nobody in my family had status or even visited our home reserve. My extended family's various communities are primarily small towns and rural areas, where everyone leads fairly normal, primarily blue-collar lives. My immediate family's community is just Saskatoon.

 

I was the first person on my mom's side of the family to get a university degree (my dad was the first on his side), and the family was proud of that. Some of my relations come to me asking for legal advice. From the few members of my family that have gone to our home reserve, it sounds like everyone there is pretty welcoming and wouldn't mind having the rest of us come for a visit, but I don't feel any connection to it myself. I also don't think that our home reserve really needs me in any way - if anything, I worry that I would be seen as opportunistic (it turns out our home reserve is one of the resource-rich ones that is able to provide some great benefits to its members).

 

I have talked with a few Aboriginal lawyers practicing Aboriginal law (including academics) about these things. I have noticed occasional subtle judgment from them regarding the fact that I am not fighting on Aboriginal issues despite my race, and am instead largely working for The Man. However, my view is that we can't just be wholly in opposition to the system all the time. It's not going anywhere. I'm a change-it-from-the-inside kind of guy, and reasonable people generally seem to accept that. The extent of my activism on Aboriginal issues is normally just to politely educate prejudiced/ignorant people.

 

The things that really get my inner activist going aren't specifically Aboriginal issues. I'm usually more concerned with economic, environmental and social issues of more general application.


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#10 Malicious Prosecutor

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Posted 23 March 2016 - 10:58 AM

Hi all,
I am pretty sure that every Aboriginal applicant in the last 5 years knows that I am willing to answer questions and that I am active in the applicate tread but here is my ask me anything. Remember in terms of the hard core practice management question we have experienced lawyer I'm new and set up a practice but I can answer from an aboriginal prepsective question on law school and articling .


Her Serdog, a question out of more personal interest (and based on what an aboriginal lawyer once told me). If it's too personal please feel free to ignore.

Are you practicing law in the same area as your own first nation or community? How do your native clients view you as a lawyer - are you seen as having "sold out", seen as a valuable resource, or something else?

#11 CleverPseudonym

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Posted 23 March 2016 - 11:34 AM

This sounds like a great thread.

 

Background about myself: I am a non-status native person who reconnected with his native heritage in late high school. I am 1/4 native on my father's side. Since high school, I've volunteered with many Aboriginal causes and have been very involved with the native community at my school.

 

I'm wondering what was your experience going through law school as a native person.

 

I went through the application process for law school and was accepted nearly everywhere I applied. However, at Uvic I met in-person with the admissions department about some admissions questions I had. Later on, I was rejected from Uvic because, they felt I was not "Aboriginal" enough. They seemed apprehensive and questioning about how I identified as Aboriginal during the meeting. I can't help but think that the decision may have been influenced by the fact that I look very white (blue eyes, blond hair, pale skin) since they were the only school I met with in person.

 

Although I'm very happy with the school I will attend, I'm worried I will not fit into the various Aboriginal student groups and activities at the law school because of the way I look. I never felt like this was a limitation during my undergrad, but my experience with law school admission suggests that it may be. I don't wish to have to convince every Aboriginal, or non-Aboriginal, person that I have a genuine connection with my Aboriginal heritage in order to be part of the community.   



#12 MbGirl

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Posted 23 March 2016 - 12:14 PM

 

 

I went through the application process for law school and was accepted nearly everywhere I applied. However, at Uvic I met in-person with the admissions department about some admissions questions I had. Later on, I was rejected from Uvic because, they felt I was not "Aboriginal" enough. They seemed apprehensive and questioning about how I identified as Aboriginal during the meeting. I can't help but think that the decision may have been influenced by the fact that I look very white (blue eyes, blond hair, pale skin) since they were the only school I met with in person.

 

 

I agree with you that Indigenous people are always having to prove who they are.  For myself, I could easily pass as your stereotypical "Aboriginal Person" but my brothers for example not so much. They have fair skin and green eyes etc... but they completely identify as Metis and grew up in a Metis household.  

I struggled with part of the personal statement that asked you to describe your connection to your Aboriginal community.  It was just another way that I had to prove that I was Metis enough to apply through that category.  I was completely honest when I wrote that my connection to my Aboriginal community is my everyday lived experiences with my family and friends.  It includes the kinds of food we ate, the way we celebrate holidays, the fact we love to dance and listen to fiddle music etc.  It's the things that my mother learned from her parents that were passed on  to her parents from her grandparents and so on.  I didn't know how to explain it any other way. Growing up in Winnipeg I didn't go hunting, trapping or fishing or picking berries or other traditional activities.  So I had to use examples that showed being Metis meant more than those typical traits that are historically attributed to Metis people. 

 

 

 


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#13 FunnyLawName

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Posted 23 March 2016 - 06:51 PM

I agree with you that Indigenous people are always having to prove who they are. For myself, I could easily pass as your stereotypical "Aboriginal Person" but my brothers for example not so much. They have fair skin and green eyes etc... but they completely identify as Metis and grew up in a Metis household.
I struggled with part of the personal statement that asked you to describe your connection to your Aboriginal community. It was just another way that I had to prove that I was Metis enough to apply through that category. I was completely honest when I wrote that my connection to my Aboriginal community is my everyday lived experiences with my family and friends. It includes the kinds of food we ate, the way we celebrate holidays, the fact we love to dance and listen to fiddle music etc. It's the things that my mother learned from her parents that were passed on to her parents from her grandparents and so on. I didn't know how to explain it any other way. Growing up in Winnipeg I didn't go hunting, trapping or fishing or picking berries or other traditional activities.


To me this brings up an interesting question. To what extent do admissions committees rely on perspectives of other Indigenous people to help guide evaluations? I always thought it was nominal - you fit in to this admissions category or you don't. You can elaborate on your heritage if you choose, but otherwise you're just being held to standards of admissions against a different group than the 'regular' category ('regular' seems like the wrong language here...).

I never thought admissions might rely on just 'how' indigenous one is. If anyone knows Pam Palmater she actually addressed this in her book about blood quantum which essentially asked why the government was allowed to designate status based on just how native one actually is.

#14 serdog

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Posted 24 March 2016 - 11:11 AM

 

 

Anyways I just wanted to get your perspective on how the idea of Aboriginal culture (legal or otherwise) was integrated in to your education, or in practice. I know UVic is a bit of an outlier in terms of their commitment to this field of thought (insofar as they've demonstrated a lot of commitment to it) so I was also hoping you could comment on if you think Aboriginal culture is adequately addressed in legal education and practice as a whole. 

 

 

I don't think it is, this is something that hard to do without dedicated Indigenous professor and professional and although we are gettting there we are still along way off. That said I think that there were ways outside of class to gain that a seek it out if one choice to seek that out. Further I was able to take one class that focused on the Inuit Culture though Movies (which was a sweat class). I generally think it was in cooperated in small ways however the issue is we have 300+ Aboriginal Cultures in Canada some which are close some which are very different, thus it can be difficult to incorporate culture 

Her Serdog, a question out of more personal interest (and based on what an aboriginal lawyer once told me). If it's too personal please feel free to ignore.

Are you practicing law in the same area as your own first nation or community? How do your native clients view you as a lawyer - are you seen as having "sold out", seen as a valuable resource, or something else?

 

Broadly speaking yes in that I am it the same small jurisdiction as my First Nation . I have generally been seen as a resource and clients are happy generally(sadly it 80%-90% Indigenous :( ) happy a Native person(I've only dealt with clients in criminal law) .

 

 

I went through the application process for law school and was accepted nearly everywhere I applied. However, at Uvic I met in-person with the admissions department about some admissions questions I had. Later on, I was rejected from Uvic because, they felt I was not "Aboriginal" enough. They seemed apprehensive and questioning about how I identified as Aboriginal during the meeting. I can't help but think that the decision may have been influenced by the fact that I look very white (blue eyes, blond hair, pale skin) since they were the only school I met with in person.

 

Although I'm very happy with the school I will attend, I'm worried I will not fit into the various Aboriginal student groups and activities at the law school because of the way I look. I never felt like this was a limitation during my undergrad, but my experience with law school admission suggests that it may be. I don't wish to have to convince every Aboriginal, or non-Aboriginal, person that I have a genuine connection with my Aboriginal heritage in order to be part of the community.   

I am sorry(and as a UVIC Grad very hopeful it was not based on skin colour). I never had an issue with my looks at Law School I don't look like that First Nation outside Athabaskan areas, but I am a bit of what one of my friends called a "Tofu Person" meaning that I blead into whatever ethic group I am with as a mixed member of that group.

 

When I was at Uvic with Aboriginal Law Students we had hair from black to red and everyone was accepted as Aboriginal, I think that there is more understand of mixed blood. I wouldn't worry about the possibility of this thing until they happen. 

 

 

It's the things that my mother learned from her parents that were passed on  to her parents from her grandparents and so on.  I didn't know how to explain it any other way. Growing up in Winnipeg I didn't go hunting, trapping or fishing or picking berries or other traditional activities.  So I had to use examples that showed being Metis meant more than those typical traits that are historically attributed to Metis people. 

I  think that is one of the keys at Uvic is how has beening Aboriginal impacted your life? Do you drum, go to powwow eat some foods, learn traditional things  work with your community?

 

I never thought admissions might rely on just 'how' indigenous one is. If anyone knows Pam Palmater she actually addressed this in her book about blood quantum which essentially asked why the government was allowed to designate status based on just how native one actually is.

I think it does to an extent and really should(I don't mean blood Quantum here) Aboriginal Lawyer are being trained to help ameliorate the over (as clients) and under(in position of power) of Aboriginal People in the Justice System, this is because of the particular perspective that is brought by Aboriginal Lawyers. Now I think that requires to an extent a connection and engagement  with an Aboriginal heritage, now this is a hard a difficult thing to determine but on which I think is important if School are attempt to met the objective of the Category. 

 

Note: Before we get too off topic if people want to have a longer conversation about Aboriginal Identity(generally or in term of admissions) lets do an off topic discussion  


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