Victoria Perrie

May 17, 2023

Red River Métis lawyer gives back through art

Red River Métis lawyer Victoria Perrie has been called to the bar in New Brunswick, Nunavut, and Manitoba.

Victoria Perrie is a queer Red River Métis Citizen who has found the time to nurture her two passions: law and art.

She currently serves as a lawyer and consultant who has been called to the bar in two provinces and one territory.

Growing up in Winnipeg, Perrie attended what was formerly known as the Manitoba Theatre for Young People's (MTYP) Aboriginal Arts Training and Mentorship Program, which she stumbled upon by accident.

"I was in the waiting room one day and got pulled into an audition I didn't sign up for," she said. "Then, I performed in multiple productions and started doing workshops."

Perrie was attracted to forum theatre, which uses interactive performances to explore social issues.

"You have this unique chance to try out a solution to the many crises that have built up in the show, and you've got this opportunity to work through tough situations and advocate for other characters in crisis on stage and try to assist in getting to a positive resolution," she said.

The Red River Métis lawyer said this style of performance helped her learn more about advocacy and led her to consider advocacy roles seriously.

"When I was growing up in the theatre, it presented me with the opportunity of learning to speak up for others and advocate," she said. "The arts inspired me."

Eventually, Perrie received a Bachelor of Arts with a double major in criminology and psychology at the University of Manitoba in 2013.

The lawyer has been called to the bar in New Brunswick, Nunavut, and Manitoba.

She credits the University of Saskatchewan's Program of Legal Studies for Native People (now Native Law Centre Summer Program) for further inspiring herself to become a lawyer and stay in the legal field. While attending the program in 2015, she met a number of memorable people, many of whom are now Indigenous lawyers.

"I'm able to call on them for support and guidance. They ground me in what I do and this community provided me support right from the get-go," said the Red River Métis Citizen. "We were (mainly) taught by Indigenous scholars and lawyers across Canada. It was a good grounding in law, and being able to call on those folks today helps keep me here and centred."

After wrapping up her education and graduating with a Juris Doctor in Law from the University of Manitoba in 2018, Perrie spent time articling in New Brunswick before taking and passing the bar exam. She has practiced law for four years and spent nearly three of them in Nunavut.

While conducting programming and community work during her stay, the Red River Métis lawyer learned you can't assume you know everything about the communities you work with.

"Even if you are Indigenous and living in (the) community, you cannot assume you know what's best for the people in that community," she said. "Community consultations, community engagement, and community direction on every step is the only way, in my opinion, to develop something that is actually going to benefit the people you're working with."

A highlight for Perrie was watching the icebergs while in Nunavut.

Perrie has adopted an intersectional approach to her work, allowing her to include the perspectives of queer, Indigenous and Red River Métis individuals."

"I try to have a community focus in my work. I try to engage the community and seek support from my community," said the Red River Métis Citizen. "It's important to develop initiatives that will be helpful for the communities you're serving and ensure you're not thinking you know everything and imposing your views, which can be difficult."

Perrie said when graduating from law school and passing the bar, many lawyers are advised to buy their court robes quickly, but unless they're practicing criminal law, they aren't needed much.

"They were expensive, so I didn't buy one because I couldn't afford one. I would always borrow somebody else's," she said. "When I practiced criminal defence in Nunavut, I would borrow a colleague's robe when I needed one."

The Red River Métis lawyer would borrow a robe from co-worker Patrick Smith, who helped educate Perrie in criminal law and frame her criminal legal perspective.

"He's one of my mentors in criminal practice, and he gave me this robe," she said. "He's like, 'I don't know why you would want this ratty old thing?' I love it!"

Perrie wanted people in the courtroom to know she's a proud Red River Métis Citizen. So, she sought to customize the robe and give it some Red River Métis flair by adding a sash.

She received the hand-weaved neck portion of the robe from a Métis weaver in the Northwest Territories, purchased a longer piece of sash for the rest of the robe, and had it custom tailored in Winnipeg.

"Right now, they're for occasions where I would need to robe up for professional reasons including arguing in the courtroom," she said.

Perrie is excited to wear her custom-created robe and show her Red River Métis roots.

While practicing law and sharing her passion for the performing arts, Perrie said one important lesson she's learned is to do what feeds your soul and not stay in roles that deplete it.

"Many people have jobs throughout their lives, including myself, where we're not feeling like that job is really serving us. We're feeling drained and unhappy there," she said. "The most important thing I've learned in these four years is to choose where you put your energy and time wisely and not to spend what is so valuable in a place, project, or job that isn't serving you."

Perrie has especially observed this during her many years working with Indigenous youth and adults with differing abilities.

"A lot of Indigenous and (Red River) Métis folks aren't necessarily told that and brought up with the mindset they need to look out for themselves and their best interests in these situations," she said.

The Red River Métis Citizen played a role in establishing the MTYP's Native Youth Theatre, a program that specializes in free theatre classes for young Indigenous actors, in 2013 with playwright Ian Ross. After Perrie returned to Manitoba late last year, she had the chance to come back to the program and mentor students.

"I taught (the Roots Drama Class), which is (for) the youngest group of students we have. They did a great job. I think it was their first time for almost all of them."

The lawyer is also a part of the Pimootayowin Creators Circle at the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre. According to their website, the circle supports "the creation and development of new plays by Manitoba-based Indigenous artists." She is writing a play on the trial of Louis Riel, which will be shared at the Pimootayowin: A Festival of New Work in September.

Perrie is also lucky to be a part of a new Indigenous-women-led theatre company that is starting to break out.

"The theatre company is hoping to be a place to create more homegrown stories and hear from more Indigenous artists here in Winnipeg and the surrounding areas and grow the community that exists here in the Indigenous art world," she said.

The Red River Métis lawyer is taking her knowledge of acting and law to create a program that teaches Indigenous youth legal rights and protections.

"I'm hoping to merge them and teach our youth to stand up for themselves while being aware of the realities of being an Indigenous youth interacting with cops, child welfare, or whomever they're having to have these tough conversations with," she said.

Perrie sees many intersections between art and law.

"I learned in theatre school how to be persuasive," she said. "I learned how to speak clearly, how to prepare and memorize things and put on a presentation. I learned how to use my body to invite people in when I'm speaking and not to be closed off."

The lawyer hopes other Red River Métis Citizens become interested in the field of law and reach beyond the colonial legal system to begin learning, revitalizing, and reinvigorating our traditional legal system.

"The colonial legal system is here, it's happening, and that's where I work," she said. "But I would love to see other Red River Métis women, students, and other Indigenous people from all across these lands return to more traditional systems of law and revitalization."

Perrie noted it's a blossoming time for law in Canada, as plenty of Indigenous law research projects are underway. She pointed to the new National Centre for Indigenous Laws planned for the University of Victoria, the Indigenous Justice Strategy in progress by Justice Canada, and the Indigenous Court Work Program, recently transferred to Indigenous rights holder organizations.

"I think these are great opportunities for us to create systems that will work for our people and promote our forms of justice. Canada is a multi-juridical place," she said. "There are many systems of law that operate on these lands, and I look forward to the day when I can defer to a (Red River) Métis court here in the Homeland."


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