Law school can be a challenge at the best of times. And for a long time, Malian Levi wasn’t sure if it was a challenge she could meet.
“The first time it was something that was mentioned to me, I was like, ‘Oh, no, I can’t do that,’” says Malian, who is from the Elsipogtog First Nation in New Brunswick. “Then I started to really think about it. I worked in my community, and I saw all the access-to-justice problems, the gaps that exist in Aboriginal communities.”
But realizing the opportunity is much simpler than seizing it. When Malian first attempted to go to law school, in 2011, it was a challenging time in her family life and she was forced to put her studies on hold.
“So, when I knew I was coming back a second time, there was no way I was leaving — whether it took me three years or five years, I was going to get it done.”
Support in her corner
Thankfully, Malian had a lot of support in her corner. There was her family, for one: her mother looked after her daughter (now eight years old) back home, with Malian travelling to New Brunswick every second weekend or so to spend time with her.
But there was also the Indigenous Blacks & Mi’kmaq (IB&M) Initiative at the Schulich School of Law — one of the primary drivers in Malian’s decision to come to Dal. The IB&M works to ensure that African Nova Scotian and Mi'kmaw students are represented and supported at the Schulich School of Law and in the legal profession.
Read also: Catalysts for change: Law IB&M program celebrates its 200th graduates
“I honestly don’t think I would have completed law school without it,” says Malian. “Their door is always open. They give you direction and study support, and then there was the social aspect.”
That last part was invaluable, as Malian had put aside many of the typical social experiences of law school so she had time to travel and visit her daughter. When she wasn’t in class, she was mostly studying.
“I was so overwhelmed when I started at law school. But I just kept going, doing my best, and I really felt at home around the students who were in the IB&M program. I felt they understood where I came from.”
On the right path
Now, having just graduated, Malian is setting out to make her mark on the legal profession. After taking the summer off to spend time with her daughter, she’s set to begin her articling in the fall at a Fredericton law firm with experience collaborating with Indigenous bands.
“I’m interested in criminal law as well, but mainly I hope to represent the Indigenous community in any way I can,” she says. “I’m always going to be working with Indigenous people — I know that for sure.”
And if there was any doubt as to whether law was where Malian belonged, it was settled when she received the Schulich School of Law’s Donald Marshall Jr. Memorial Award. Named after the Mi’kmaq man whose wrongful conviction inspired change in Nova Scotia’s legal system, the award goes to a graduating student with a proven commitment to raising awareness and working for social justice and criminal law reform for Indigenous peoples.
“It’s such an honour — because of what he represents, what he went through, and also what my community, my people, continue to go through,” says Malian. “To receive that award is such a huge honour on behalf of my people. It made me realize that I’m on the right path—it was the confirmation I was doing something right, both for me and for my people.”
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