A new challenge awaits Kahnawa’kehró:non Kerrin-Lee Whyte in 2021.
The 28-year-old, who graduated in December from the Faculty of Law at McGill University, will embark on her last academic journey before she obtains her license to practice law. Whyte is starting her training at l’École du Barreau at the end of January with the goal to pass her final exam before the summer.
Undeniably, the road to becoming a lawyer isn’t the easiest one. Yet, it is one that Whyte is excited to be on, especially given her background.
“I certainly am more aware of injustice in the system towards Indigenous people,” she said.
Throughout her career thus far, she has not had the chance to work with any Onkwehón:we, this being the very reason she decided to go into criminal defence.
“To give a voice,” she explained.
Whyte knows that there are always larger issues, such as colonialism and unfortunate circumstances that can lead people to make poor decisions, as they have no other option. While working at the Innocence McGill legal clinic for credits toward her undergrad, she became particularly interested in finding evidence in cases where people were wrongfully convicted; to look further than the wrongdoing.
Initially, this curiosity led her to study Forensic Science at Trent University in Ontario, after taking criminology in CEGEP. After graduation, she moved back to Montreal. The next logical next step was criminal law, which tied it all together. The law program at McGill is also an undergraduate degree, but a hard one to get into, which explains why many of the students already have a degree.
“It’s been a hard journey, a lot of my peers go on into corporate law, which is way more competitive and popular. The competition is insane, everyone is so overqualified, so in order to stand out, you use every little detail you can find just to get a leg up,” said Whyte.
However, Whyte said she sees her path differently.
“McGill has a good supportive community, it’s not dog-eat-dog,” she said.
She also has Kahnawake to support her. The future lawyer received financial support from the Kahnawake Education Centre through her McGill degree. For the past two summers, Whyte has been working for the legal services of the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake (MCK). Without her official license, she wasn’t allowed to give any legal advice, but gained experience by working in close proximity with the community’s lawyers, while researching documentation that helped manoeuvre diverse situations.
Now, she said her current to-do list is to shop around and find a firm where she eventually would like to do her apprenticeship once she finishes l’École du Barreau. The Barreau is a four to eight month mandatory course to be eligible for the Quebec bar exam. Not only is the final exam meant to be quite difficult, with competition among the future lawyers adding an extra layer of stress, but Whyte will impressively navigate through it all online and in French. Although she spent most of her life speaking another language, only learning Kanien’kéha and French in elementary school, it seems like it’s the thought of spending days in front of a computer that preoccupies the student most of all.
“I like the cozy part of it, especially now since it’s winter, but it gets pretty draining, staring at a screen without actual human beings and feedback,” said Whyte.
Whyte is well-surrounded with Francophone friends, but also found that having practiced theatre for a good part of her life helped her gain confidence to perform public speeches or courtroom pleadings.
But one thing she said really helped on her road to success was her ability to take herself out of context when she was feeling low.
“Sometimes, the reasons you might not feel so great might be because your peers are amazing, but that in itself is amazing. It’s important to realize that, see where you are and not beat yourself up,” she said proudly.
Virginie Ann, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eastern Door