Neegann Aaswakashin is the kind of person who doesn’t give up on whatever she sets her mind on. Aaswakashin was born and raised in Ottawa, ON, but currently lives in Squamish, B.C. She graduated from law school in 2016 and went on to do her articles with the attorney general in Ontario, and has been taking her time to get called to the bar.
“I was supposed to be called to the bar in June, but because of COVID-19, that will be pushed into 2021, which is fine,” said Aaswakashin.
Since graduating and finishing her articles, Aaswakashin has done business consulting with both private companies and First Nations on large scale development projects and small scale development projects.
“We work on business partnerships that are going to benefit the Canadian economy, as well as benefiting Indigenous communities through employment, training, business capacity enhancing, and just business development,” said Aaswakashin.
Her journey to where she is now in law is what she calls “a long story.”
Aaswakashin started off by completing her undergrad in general arts and sciences with a small focus on Indigenous studies, and then working for the Native Women’s Association of Canada where she noticed everyone that worked there were all female lawyers.
“I became very aware of the impact that legally trained professionals can have in the not-for-profit sector and for women’s rights and women’s issues, and Indigenous women’s rights and issues, and children’s issues and rights. And so from there I decided and was inspired by the women around me to apply to law school,” said Aaswakashin.
Throughout her law school experience, Aaswakashin was working for Indigenous organizations and at the parliament of Canada for former MP Romeo Saganash, where she says she learned over the years that one of the strongest impacts she could have positively in Indigenous communities is in economic development.
Aaswakashin decided she was going to focus her efforts on working with companies and First Nations to make meaningful partnerships.
“I saw that communities that had really, really strong leadership and strong economic development initiatives, were able to take that money, reinvest it in healthcare, education, social programming, community healing, individual healing. And that in turn, from my perspective was the most effective way to improve Indigenous communities. And so I wanted to be part of that,” said Aaswakashin.
Her path to becoming a lawyer from high school was something many people haven’t experienced.
Throughout all of high school, Aaswakashin was home-schooled, saying her mother wanted to give them the best chance of success, which she is grateful for.
“I really am thankful for her because the high school, public school system is very, very difficult for Indigenous students,” said Aaswakashin.
Aaswakashin says when she got into the post-secondary system she ‘really struggled’ with the academics because they didn’t come natural to her. But she stuck with it and eventually she got better with writing and research, which helped her excel academically in her undergrad and helped get her into law school.
Aaswakashin admits she failed a couple times along the way, saying she didn’t do well on her first law school entry exam
“It took a long time, but I set the goal and I knew it was something I was really passionate about. I had a lot of people supporting me, telling me, “Don’t give up,” and I didn’t, I stuck with it,” said Aaswakashin.
“When I’m practicing law or if I’m doing business development, nobody’s looking and nobody knows about all of those failures and those times where I fell down and almost gave up.”
And if there is anything she could tell people who are thinking of leaving their community whether it is for post-secondary or a job, it would be to find a support system whether it’s students or distant family.
“Set yourself up with a good support system and a game plan so that if things don’t go the way you wanted, it’s okay to not give up, but just hit the pause button, go take care of yourself, do what you need to do, and then I promise there will come a time that you’ll be strong and ready to take it on again. And just be forgiving of yourself.”
Special thanks to Jasmine Kabatay for authoring this blog post.
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