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Catriona Dooley


Kwayaciiwin Photo Shoot

Graduate picture from Law School

Graduate picture from Law School


  • Elementary 

  • High school (University level courses)

  • Bachelor of Social Work at University of Manitoba

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA) at the University of Manitoba (Majoring in Native Studies and minoring in Sociology)

    • To be admitted into Law school you need 60 university credit hours (2 full years) with high grades OR a Bachelor's degree consisting of at least 90 credit hours AND register with Law School Admission Council (LSAC) to write the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), and pay the fee.

  • Juris Doctor (JD) at Peter A. Allard School of Law 

  • Native Law Centre Summer Program

  • Articling, 10 months of Student-at-Law work & writing two Bar Exams if in Ontario (Lakehead is just writing Bar Exams due to rural focus)

  • Call to the Bar by the Law Society of Ontario

  • Practicing Lawyer

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Many Paths

Provide a brief general introduction of yourself.


My name is Catriona Dooley; I am Oji-Cree and Irish, and my First Nations community is St. Theresa Point First Nation of Treaty #5 in Manitoba. Though I visited my family there often while growing up, I was raised off-reserve in southern Manitoba and Sioux Lookout, Ontario. I am the oldest of four girls, and our parents raised us, our mother who was born and grew up in St. Theresa Point and our father who immigrated from Ireland. I have my own family now with my partner, Harold Chisel. We are parents of two boys, Aidan and Declan. Their First Nations community is Lac Seul First Nation, and we get to visit our family there quite often.


Recently, I was called by the Law Society of Ontario to the Ontario Bar as a Barrister & Solicitor in September of 2018, otherwise called a licensed lawyer. In order to be called as a lawyer, I had to have a law degree and complete the licensing requirements.  For the first part of this, I attended law school in Vancouver, BC, for three years and then for the second part, I completed the articling training process as a Student-At-Law, which requires 10-months of training and the passing of two 8-hour Bar Exams. I finished my articling with the law firm Beamish & Associates in Sioux Lookout, ON, through which I also did a lot of work in health policy analysis with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority. I took a little longer due to a maternity break for nine months, but still finished all the requirements by June 2018. I continued to work at Beamish & Associates until just before my bar call and am currently a "sole practitioner," meaning that I work on my own since I plan to transfer jurisdiction to Manitoba very soon. My partner recently started law school in Winnipeg, MB, so I plan to work there either continuing on my own or with a law firm practicing Aboriginal and Indigenous law. 



What does your daily job entail?


Whether at an office or home, as a lawyer a lot of the day is spent researching legal areas. My past and current work have involved legal issues in health care, child welfare and other government programs in Indigenous and Aboriginal law. This research is mainly required for presentations or memos, which can be used to help clients or to keep up to date for potential clients in the future. I like to keep up to date on First Nations' issues, and the work to do this is always ongoing as with many other areas. In the past, I have also travelled for work, which brought me to interesting places where I could meet clients or be involved with policymaking. I currently focus on policy and proposal work that consists of a lot of phone calls, meetings and online communications, and this has been flexible for my schedule as I spend a lot of time with my two sons and am planning to move to another jurisdiction. 



What got you interested in your chosen career?


I didn’t grow up knowing any lawyers. It was not something I always knew I wanted to do. I just knew I wanted to work with people and help them. Thinking about my life and going through university, being a lawyer was something I grew into knowing and should try my hand at. My interest in law began with my casual jobs in child welfare, especially since I did a lot of prevention work, worked directly with at-risk children, and became aware of many policy restrictions for services that way. I also have a Bachelor of Arts degree in Native Studies which introduced me to a wide range of issues across Indigenous communities and had me reflecting on my own experiences and those of my family members’ as being impacted by historical Canadian policies and colonization. While obtaining my Bachelor of Social Work, my interest in law only grew. At my Indigenous support program and child welfare placement, I decided to apply to law school. Wanting to make a difference and all of my experiences have culminated in choosing this.  



What has motivated you?


My family and extended family have been a big motivation. I often take a lot of time to help family members through difficult times, which has helped me with understanding where Indigenous law and policies need to evolve and has given me a unique perspective to bring to the legal field, which I think has been missing.


Another source of motivation for me is when people reach out to me and speak about how they would like to get into law school, which has made me realize I am quite knowledgeable in certain aspects of law and I can help others get into the law field.



Is there anyone in particular who has inspired you?


I find inspiration from many places, especially within my own family. My mother is a very strong and resilient First Nations woman. I am also very inspired by my fellow law students and my professors, the latter of which included Darlene Johnston who is a First Nations professor that always offered support and has been in the field for many years. I met Cindy Blackstock who has inspired me with her work, and I only hope I can help Indigenous youth by a fraction of what she has been able to do.  



How did you get to where you are today?


I got to where I am with a lot of support from my family, especially my partner for almost 14 years and who I will finally be marrying in 2019. Going to university and having a baby was not very easy. It took a lot of adjusting to being a student mom, but my partner and I supported one another.


I became more cognizant of choosing classes where I knew babies would be allowed to come should I need to bring my first born Aidan. During law school, I took Aidan to a few classes and Law Students’ Society meetings during my final year.  


This support from my partner and the rest of my family helped me through difficult times during my post-secondary studies. My soom passed away suddenly with systematic inadequacies, his passing was a big factor. My kookum passed away before I could let her know I got into law school. At the end of my law school studies, a cousin I grew up with was murdered. These were tough moments, especially with my family being so close, but I learned that universities and colleges are accommodating for such times. Speaking to people early on can help keep you on track by only postponing an exam or pushing a due date back on a paper. If I hadn’t talked to people in my faculty or my friends to know about these supports, I don’t think I would have moved along on my track as successfully.


How do you keep developing your skills in your career?


As lawyers, there are yearly requirements to meet your Continuing Professional Development (CPD) hours. These hours require legal ethics (moral rules) and equality training, but aside from that, you can pick from a variety of ways to fulfill your continued learning.


Currently, I have been attending conferences and workshops, but not all are relevant to law because I want my knowledge to grow and that may be beneficial to add a fresh perspective on certain issues.



What are some things you like about your career?


I like that being a lawyer can be a versatile career. You gain many skill sets from law school after completing a Juris Doctor degree and being called to the Bar. My daily work varies, so I have a variety, which I enjoy.


I also like to interact with people. As a lawyer, I have a lot of opportunities to meet new people as clients or legal professionals interested in the same practice areas as you through meetings or conferences.


The legal landscape is always changing, so I also like that pace and development of our laws, especially in a time where reconciliation with Indigenous peoples and principles are finally being brought to the forefront.


I really enjoy what I am. I am at the very beginning of my career, and I know that this list with only grow and possibly shift as I practice more.   



Outside of work, what do you do to take care of yourself?


I enjoy the company of family and friends when we can get together to unwind and talk. I like to spend time with my own family doing crafts or baking, as well as travelling when we can.


I also like to bead, especially floral patterns that my family had done. I make things from small pins and earrings to necklaces and capes. I even share the beadwork I do with my sisters on our social media account “Monias Beads," which is my mom’s maiden name.


I also like to hand-drum, which I have been doing for the past five years and my youngest, Declan, really enjoys it as well. It has a calming yet powerful feeling.


What financial opportunities did you use and what was the process?


I received post-secondary funding for my Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Social Work degrees from my First Nation’s education authority. This required a form to be filled out by April 1st (sometimes postponed until May 1st) before a September entrance. For example, if you wanted to start school in September 2018, the form needs to be in for April 1, 2018. The funding regime for First Nations is underfunded and not every person who applies may receive funding, so student loans is also an option, which I have taken myself.


I have also applied for bursaries, such as Indspire and the Native Women’s Association of Canada, and though I have not always been successful, it never hurts to try. The process for that requires checking on the website for deadlines (or the INAC database for bursaries and scholarships) and then filling out the forms, which usually requires information regarding your budget and references to affirm the information. Sometimes more substantive bursaries or scholarships require more in-depth references and even a letter, so it is important to keep in contact with people you look up to and share your goals and experiences with so they can be a supportive reference in the future (Law school applications stresses the importance of such references).



What do you still hope to achieve?


In the short-term, I look forward to being Called to the Bar in Manitoba and being near my partner as he begins his own legal journey at the University of Manitoba. I also hope to be a part of changing First Nations’ services that are inadequate for the most part and needless reactive policies and more prevention ones in place. For example, with the over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice system, there needs to be less work done to expand spaces to retain more individuals in institutions and more done to address root causes, which can be analogous to the child welfare system. In order to do so, I plan to attain my Masters in Law (LLM) to contribute to the research on best practices and the full extent of Sec. 35 Aboriginal rights when it comes to social aspects. There is so much that can be contributed and hope to be a part of that legal tapestry someday. 


What would you like to share with the youth reading this?


I went through moments not knowing what career path to take. I even took courses in Nursing and Kinesiology because I thought I might want that career path. I found out on my own that while they were interesting, I did not have a passion for those fields. Exploring and learning more about different careers is important, so maybe if I had met a lawyer to talk to before law school, I might have been on this path sooner. Overall, I wouldn’t change anything, I enjoyed my experiences and learned a lot that would benefit me as an aspiring lawyer. I think finding the right mentors and supports early on will assist youth greatly.


Also, for anyone thinking about law school, I would also let them know that the LSAT is not a fun test to take and they would need to prepare for it as best as they can. There is less weight attached to it for some law school application categories so it may not factor in as much as someone may think.

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