Dear first year indigenous law student 

Congrats! You made it. You did it. Maybe you got in on some super awesome grades. Maybe you got in a super killer LSAT score. Maybe you got in on a conditional acceptance.* Maybe you got in and you are still unsure about the whole process. Welcome to law school…one big giant “what the fuck!”

I wish I had something super witty, funny, inspiring to say.

I don’t.

I spent my first year, almost every day, going home to cry. I didn’t want to go to class and I still don’t want to go to class (I think some people go to class just to hear their own voice, but hey, that’s just me).

Maybe I am too cynical? Maybe I am too angry? But actually, I’m tired of being the one to see the good in the entire situation. Can I just be cynical and angry for one moment, please? Kthnxbai.

Your school may say it takes some initiatives to make law school more indigenous-student friendly. Your school may say it is progressive about issues you care about (and that’s why you applied to that specific school). All schools are different. But one thing that remains the same is the fact that the fight doesn’t get any better.

I read Patricia Monture-Angus’s work (and I recommend her to everyone who is indigenous especially indigenous women). She writes about the issues she faced in law school…decades ago. Well, nothing’s changed.

People will tell you to keep up with your readings and briefing like as if they are telling you something magical. It’s not news. You probably know not to fall behind but in reality, you will. Some people get “it” right away and some people don’t. Everything, for me, didn’t clue in until second semester. Still, in my first year, I knew “the law” and how to talk about “the law.” Ask me to write an exam? Forget it. I failed one too. It happens but nobody ever talks about it. Nobody ever talks about how bad they are doing or how rough it is for them. Everyone acts like everything is peachy, but it isn’t peachy. 

Law school sucks because I put faith into people and life/situations becoming better, and they don’t get better. People and society are still racist and people will say stupid shit like “you just got in because our school saved you a seat.” Everyone knows it, even the non-indigenous folks. Thankfully, nobody has said that to me directly but it happens still. It still happens because it happens to my friends at other schools.

As for me and my experiences, the things that helped me stay safe and sane were two things:

  • Finding my other indigenous peers who were supportive
  • Finding the Indigenous student resources

There is nobody else that will get your experiences as an indigenous law student other than other indigenous law students. They all know and have been there. They all know what it feels like to have to wear two hats: the student and the teacher. Your professor may call on you to answer to the indigenous issues brought up in class and the cool thing about that is you don’t have to answer! You are there to learn just like everyone else. It is neither your responsibility nor your obligation to be the token voice for indigenous issues–you got more important shit to deal with, like not falling behind in your readings (or dealing with stuff happening back home in your community or bearing the burden of being the first one to go to post-secondary education in your family or being away from home for a long time…you get the idea).

Law school can be very alienating and isolating. It sucks. If nobody in your family or your circle of friends have never been to law school, they may or may not understand. But understand this, they will always be there for you. Reach out to them. Call them. They probably miss you too.

Law school is also like walking back into an abusive relationship over and over again. I say to myself a lot, “Yeah, I know this place is a violent place but I’m still going to go because I have to.” Ever since starting law school, I had to go back on anti-anxiety medication. I had to start counselling back up again and I am paying for it (because my law school has shitty mental health supports directly for its students). I also had to learn to say no to things in order to protect myself. People may ask you to do a lot of things and you may want to do everything because #FOMO. The beauty in life is that you can say no to whoever you want, whenever you want.

But law school is like walking back into an abusive relationship over and over again because the law talks about everything in the abstract. You will talk about things in class that may be abstract for some but for you, it was or is a reality.

For example, sex work. People talk about Bedford as principles and rules enshrining certain values into Canadian society through the Charter but it’s all bullshit. It’s bullshit because sex workers are still living and working in fear. It’s bullshit because people act like they know what’s happening since they read a case. But they don’t know what’s happening.

From 1985 until 2013, over 300 sex workers went missing or murdered after Canada enacted its communication law in the early 1980s. The was the same communication law that was struck down in Bedford, then re-enacted under Canada’s Protection for Communities and Exploited Persons Act. And Bedford found these laws to violate sex workers’ right to life, liberty and security of the person. This is all fact and everyone can read about it.

But when you talk about issues that you know affect you personally, people will talk about the issues like as if they are abstract–your lived reality and the reality of your friends and family…gone. Poof! Just like that, all of a sudden legal principles are abstracted from cases and you are stuck with having to listen to people speak about things they have no clue about…and you just want to scream because you know what it’s like to almost be murdered, live in fear and the police not care. 

I guess I just want to say is that don’t give up. Law school is a shitty place and it’s shitty that it’s shitty but don’t give up. I want to give up every single day but I know that I’ve been through a lot worse bullshit and giving up now? The joke would be on me.

And don’t forget: Always love yourself, you deserve it. Self love is resistance; living, breathing, and waking up is resistance. They tried to kill us but we still here–many thanks to our ancestors. So, let the spirit of your ancestors carry you. You are not in this alone.

*You got into law school because you super badass. Screw grades, LSAT scores or conditions.

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3 comments

  1. I always appreciate hearing your views. I feel honoured to have met you and continue to appreciate your voice. I must say though that I disagree with the general message you are portraying with law school sucking, however, I agree that it is a daily challenge. It really is a lot of hard mental work, personally, socially and culturally.

    Personally, because it is so easily to lose yourself and be worried all the time about where you might fit in the legal world, especially with issues that matter most.

    Socially, it can be isolating, absolutely. As a socially awkward person, I am never the first person people sit next to or go talk to.

    Culturally, oh my! so much colonial history, so much oppression, so much entrenched tradition.

    These are but small observations, however, I feel like it doesn’t suck because I feel like I’m getting the educational history I will need to eventually make the changes I’ll want to make for my community.

    I appreciate the history (as skewed as it may be), the legal structures (as broken as it may be) and attempts at bringing to the fore the importance of aboriginal history (as little as it may be). Because at the end of the day, I feel like I understand more about what is going on than I would not have, if i hadn’t gone to law school (that sentence sounds funny, but its friday and my brain is retiring on me).

    1. Thanks for sharing your views. Law school is a violent place and until that changes, it will continue to be a sad, abusive shitty place. It can do better. The school can do better and I think they do need to do a helluva lot better (especially on the aboriginal history front–I’m tired of having just being ok with the status quo or with important things “as little as it may be”). Again, thank you for sharing your perspective.

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