Big dreams for Kanesatake law school grad

·4 min read

Over the past eight years, Kanehsata'kehró:non Tewateronhiakhwa Nelson focused on getting her education. Now, she is a few weeks away from graduating from law school and is thrilled to be on the cusp of a new journey.

"I am just so excited to be done! Honestly! It's been one hell of a ride, I will say that. Law school was difficult in its own way. Right from the beginning, I knew it was going to be very difficult for me," said Nelson, who recently turned 25.

"Right now, I am just really excited to be done with writing papers, doing readings, exams, and classes."

The law student recounted that after graduating high school, she attended Kiuna Institution, a First Nations college near Odanak, where she completed her diploma in the First Nations Social Science program.

She said that she chose that specific program because she was not sure yet what she wanted to do and wanted to keep her options open.

After college, the young woman applied and got admitted into the criminology program at Carleton University in Ottawa.

"So, I completed my bachelor's degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice with a concentration in Law," said Nelson.

"By my second year of my bachelor's degree, that was when I really started to focus on what area of the law I was really interested in, and that is also when I started to really think about becoming a lawyer."

During her time at Carleton, Nelson said that she learned a lot about missing and murdered Indigenous women and the over-representation of Indigenous Peoples in the Canadian criminal justice system.

She said that she also included a lot of her background as a Haudenosaunee woman in her research papers and work.

"For example, I wrote a Directed Research Project on Indigenous Food Sovereignty and the preservation of traditional Haudenosaunee food systems," she said.

"I also wrote papers about cannabis law, insurance on First Nations reserves, beadwork and the law - I even beaded a hat for my niece!"

The law student said that it was during that period that she decided she wanted to be a criminal defence lawyer for Indigenous Peoples.

She graduated from Carleton in 2019, applied to law school, and got accepted to the Faculty of Law at Ottawa University.

"After the first two days of orientation, I was already overwhelmed, and I did not expect that," said Nelson, laughing.

Law school was incredibly challenging for the young woman, and it was through her unrelenting determination that she was able to get to where she is today.

She also credits the overwhelming support she has received since she began this major undertaking.

Nelson said that Danielle Lussier-Meek, the former advisor in Indigenous Relations and Indigenous learner advocate at the university, provided her with immense support over the past three years.

"She really helped me with administrative stuff and community support and helped to keep us all connected," she said.

Lussier-Meek, who is Metis, actually called Nelson to let her know that she had been accepted into the law program.

"The amount of support that I received since day one has been overwhelming, and it's been so great. Even the times that I was sitting down and crying while I was writing a paper, people would push me to keep going," said the young woman.

"My community on social media too. It was empowering for me. My parents (Jeff Nelson and Kelly Tolley) are, of course, my number one supporters."

Nelson will not be doing her bar exam because she has decided that she does not want to pursue a career in law, and said that it was the toughest decision she has ever made.

She now wants to start her own home organization business and feels empowered by her education.

“I am the type of person that really feels like if I have a decluttered space, then I am going to have a decluttered mind. And I am very organized. I feel like that stems from my law school experience.

“I am looking to start my portfolio now as I embark on this new journey. After, I will try to figure out the logistics of how this business can play out,” said Nelson.

Marisela Amador, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door

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