Descendants of historical Métis leaders graduate UBC side by side after unexpected meeting

Mark Stevens was taking part in a routine icebreaker exercise with a fellow UBC law school student when he realized they had an unexpected but significant historical connection.

It was the first 10 minutes of his first class at the school and Stevens, a descendent of Métis leader Gabriel Dumont, happened to be sitting next to Carly Teillet, the great, great grandniece of Métis leader Louis Riel.

"We start to talk about where are you coming from, what's driven you to get to law school, what kind of experiences [did you have] in the past?" Stevens said.

"And we suddenly realized that we were from similar familial experiences."

Each of the pair cited their shared background as the driving force behind their desire to pursue law school.

Louis Riel was a Métis leader who led two popular Métis governments and was central in bringing Manitoba into Confederation. He was executed for treason for his role in the 1885 rebellion against Canadian encroachment on Métis land.

Dumont was a Métis commander and Riel ally as well as a prominent hunt chief.

Two years after their first encounter, Stevens and Teillet have graduated side-by-side and taken part in a graduating ceremony at the university's First Nations House of Learning that took place Saturday afternoon.

"We come from a community that historically has had trouble asserting itself and that's my place in law is to help give those people a voice," Stevens said.

Teillet says she felt proud to be sitting next to someone on the same path and with the same sense of history and goals on that first day of school.

"I wasn't alone at this institution, at UBC. We were pursuing the same results," Teillet. "Like I was at home. I had family."

Continuing family tradition

Teillet says she has often thought back to her heritage and family while pursuing school.

She first studied history during her undergraduate degree, but then decided to follow in the footsteps of her aunt, Jean Teillet — a lawyer who has fought for Métis and Indiginous rights over the course of her more than 20-year career.

This summer, Teillet will be the inaugural articling student at the Indigenous Community Legal Clinic in the Downtown Eastside.

Stevens will be articling at Ratcliff and Company, a law firm based in North Vancouver that specializes in legal issues around Indigenous rights.

With files from Johann Nertomb