For Kellie Wuttunee, family is everything. The University of Saskatchewan graduate credits the support of both her immediate and extended families for being able to achieve her challenging educational goals while also balancing the demands of being a single parent. She’s raising three children under the age of 13, all while obtaining two degrees—her master’s in social work from Wilfrid Laurier University in 2012, and now a law degree from the U of S.
“The biggest challenge has been learning to manage my time and energy well,” Kellie said of the long road she’s travelled to get to her to her 2017 convocation. “There were some really tough times. My family, friends, culture and spirituality helped me and got me through it.”
Growing up an hour west of Saskatoon, on Red Pheasant First Nation, the Nêhiyawak Cree woman said she couldn’t imagine pursing her law degree anywhere but the University of Saskatchewan. “This is home for me—I wanted to be close to my family,” she noted. “My children have been by my side the entire process of obtaining my higher education.”
Kellie was also attracted to the Program of Legal Studies for Native People at the U of S. “It’s a one-of-a-kind program in Canada, and I was so grateful to be selected,” she said. The pre-law course provided her with a solid foundation for her Juris Doctor, a degree that holds a significant family connection. Her uncle William Wuttunee, who graduated from the U of S College of Law in 1952, was the first Cree lawyer to be called to the bar in Western Canada.
Kellie is now pursuing an articling position, and aims to work in a general practice that focuses on Aboriginal law, administrative law and constitutional law. She hopes that by combining these interests with her background in social work, she can help make societal changes through law, admiring the work of the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society of Canada. The national non-profit organization provides policy support on legal issues affecting First Nations children and families.
She said she has been inspired by her children in choosing this career path. “Every parent and family has unique needs,” she said from experience. “My youngest son has a disability, so I have had to become an advocate for him in accessing medical and therapy services. Having to move off of my First Nation to access these services in an urban centre, I’ve seen first-hand the inequities Indigenous children face in Saskatchewan and across Canada.”
Becoming a change-maker is high on Kellie’s list of goals after graduation, but she said she couldn’t get to where she is now without the support of generous donors. Kellie received numerous scholarships to help her complete her law degree, but one that stands out for her is the Dr. Grace E. Maynard Bursary, which provided Kellie with much-needed assistance during her second year of studies—which Kellie said was “the most challenging time of my legal education.”
The bursary, which supports new students each year in programs across campus, was created by Dr. Grace Maynard through a gift in her Will. Kellie said that being selected was especially meaningful to her because it was awarded based on not only financial need, but also academic performance.
When she found out she had received the support, Kellie said she felt “so much happiness”, because it helped her continue in her program and become more ambitious with her goals. “Receiving this award meant a lot to me personally, because I was able to focus on my studies and achieve good marks,” she shared.
Dr. Maynard’s support also helped her take care of herself and her children. “I am so grateful for the financial assistance because I do not come from privilege. Without bursaries and scholarships I don’t know if I could have done it—it helped me with the everyday stresses of being a full-time student and raising three children.”
Now Kellie stands at the beginning of a whole new chapter in her life, but she said she still has family and community on her mind. She’s excited to support her children with her new career, but she’s also has her sights set higher. “I want to give back to my community to help First Nations people. I want to help people in any way I can.”
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Written by Jessica Elfar