Kaitlyn Clarke and Chloe Dreilich-Girard

October 17, 2023

Red River Métis Youth take on law school

Kaitlyn Clarke (left) and Chloe Dreilich-Girard (right) completed their undergraduate degrees this past spring, graduated with distinction, and started their first year at the University of Manitoba in the faculty of law.

Kaitlyn Clarke has been fascinated by the world of law since she was young.

"It's always just been something that I've been interested in, advocating for people and standing up for them when they've been mistreated. There are so many people in the justice system that don't have proper representation, they don't get a fair trial, and they don't get justice," she said. "Whether they did commit the crime or not, there's so many other factors into how they're treated and what they deserve in it."

Since completing her undergraduate degree in criminology and political studies, the Red River Métis student is on her way to pursuing that lifelong fascination, working towards becoming a criminal defence attorney.

"I want to help other Indigenous folks because it seems like in my undergrad, a lot of what we learned about in criminology specifically was the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples in the justice system, which isn't because they're more criminally inclined, but it's more due to social factors which have led up to this event," said Clarke. "In law, that's not particularly something you're addressing, it's more helping them get through the justice system, making sure that they're treated fairly, and just ensuring they have somebody in their court, because often that's not the case."

Fellow Red River Métis student Chloe Dreilich-Girard is on a similar journey. She has spent the last four years pursuing her bachelor of arts, majoring in criminology and minoring in psychology, with hopes to give back to her community by practicing family law.

"There are a few different areas (of law) that I'm thinking (of specializing in), specifically issues of domestic violence," said Dreilich-Girard. "A lot of folks don't have a person on their side that really understands them and understands who we are as (Indigenous) people. So, having somebody that's from your community able to advocate for you and be by your side throughout the (judicial) process I think is really important."

Clarke and Dreilich-Girard completed their undergraduate degrees in 2023, graduating with distinction, and have now started their first year at the University of Manitoba in the faculty of law.

"I was looking back at something from 2015 and my future goals (were to) graduate high school in 2019, graduate (with a) BA in 2023, and start law school," Clarke said. "So, it's exciting all of that is happening."

Kaitlyn Clarke has always had an interest in the field of law and aspires to be a criminal defence attorney.

Dreilich-Girard shared a similar sentiment, but also recognized the nerves that come with trying something new. Luckily, she has had the support of fellow Métis mentors to assist her in navigating academic spaces.

"I've been fortunate to have some really amazing mentors and have some really amazing folks in my life that have been able to give me a bit of a glimpse into what a day in their life (as law students) and their experiences that they've had, especially as an Indigenous woman, look like," she said.

Both Red River Métis students understand how vital representation is within an academic setting, leading them to both volunteer on campus and within the Métis community.

Working for the Infinity Women Secretariat as a student intern, Clarke has taken on roles including summer student coordinator, and has helped in areas like governance research and Youth support. She also serves as Youth Representative for the St. Norbert Parish-La Barriére Métis Council.

"In that position I make sure that the Youth voice is heard and included in Local meetings, and I attend some regional events and MMF meetings. I then report back to our Local and bring them all the information that they need," said Clarke. "I also do the social media and website for our local and then anything else they may need from me."

Dreilich-Girard is a member of the Manitoba Métis Federation (MMF) Bison Local, where she regularly attends meetings. She also prides herself on the volunteer work she does within the Indigenous community outside of the Local, which has greatly influenced her choice to pursue law.

"A lot of the work that I do currently, especially my volunteer work, is with women, children, Youth, and two-spirit folks," said Dreilich-Girard. "Obviously, I can't speak for people, but I can help amplify their voices and make sure that they're getting the support they deserve and that they have somebody who understands them fighting for them in their corner."

The Red River Métis Youth is also an active member of the University of Manitoba student body, volunteering on student council.

"I was the Chief Returning Officer for the University of Manitoba Indigenous Students' Association for three years," said Dreilich-Girard. "I was (also) President of the Arts Student Body Council. So, I led a group of 30-plus folks who advocated and put on events for students in the faculty of arts."

Chloe Dreilich-Girard wants to give back to her community by working with Indigenous women and children who have experienced violence. Following her studies, she hopes to practice family law.

The MMF has provided Red River Métis post-secondary students with access to academic funding and resources, both of which the law students have accessed throughout their education.

"My first year of my undergrad was also the first year that the PSESP (Post-Secondary Education Support) program came into play, so I've been able to have that for the first three years of my degree," said Clarke. "Then I used Métis Employment and Training's full funding for the final year of my first undergrad degree, so that was phenomenal and a really big weight off my shoulders."

The MMF's support of post-secondary students allows Citizens to break barriers that may be preventing them from pursuing their education.

"Honestly, I don't think I would be as able to pursue my education as I am now if it wasn't for (MMF) support, especially in terms of the financial aspects," said Dreilich-Girard. "But it's been really great, especially last year it was really helpful because for the last year of your degree, it's crunch time."

As one of the assistant coaches for Team Manitoba Athletics at the North American Indigenous Games, Clarke had the chance to work with various athletes - specifically "throws athletes," who compete in shot put, discus, javelin, and high jump. Her experiences coaching have provided her many learning opportunities she hopes to extend to other Red River Métis students.

"My biggest piece of advice that I've been working on this past year, reminding all the students and Métis kids I coached at the North American Indigenous Games, was telling them that they belong," said Clarke. "At the end of the day, you did the work to get there, and it doesn't matter what other people say because you belong there, and it will all work out in the end."

Dreilich-Girard encourages Red River Métis students to ask for help.

"There are so many people in the community that want to help you and want to see you succeed, whether it's friends, family, or whoever, so don't be afraid," she said. "(Remind yourself) you are a strong, Métis person, you are so amazing, and you are capable. You're just as good as anybody else and you have everything you need to succeed."


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