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Photo of Wendy Whitecloud wearing a black hoodie with the hood down, standing in front of a large green plant with big leaves in the law library. A door to another room behind her stands open.

Retired law professor Wendy Whitecloud continues to mentor and counsel law students as an Elder-in-Residence at the Faculty of Law.

Wendy Whitecloud Bursary in Law a step towards Reconciliation

Alumni-initiated award to encourage diverse legal profession

December 21, 2023 — 

First-year Juris Doctor student Tréchelle Bunn finished her first term of law school on a high note as the inaugural recipient of the newly-established Wendy Whitecloud Bursary in Law.

The Bursary was established in 2022 to be awarded annually to a First Nation, Inuit or Métis female or transfeminine student enrolled in her first year of full-time studies at the Faculty of Law, University of Manitoba. According to Métis alum Roxanne Gagné [LLB/2008] who initiated the bursary fund, she and other members of the legal profession contributed to the fund to give back to community and support diversity in the legal profession as well as help forge a path towards reconciliation by making legal education attainable to such students.

“Giving back and promoting diversity in the legal profession are the reasons I created the fund,” said Gagné when explaining her motivation to spearhead establishing this bursary. “This is a tangible way to promote diversity in the legal profession. If we encourage more diverse law students now, we will have more diverse lawyers and judges in the future.”

Naming the bursary in Whitecloud’s honour, was Gagné’s way of recognizing and thanking her former professor and mentor for helping her and many other Indigenous students achieve successful legal careers. Whitecloud retired in 2019 after nearly 30 years of teaching property law, constitutional law, and aboriginal law in addition to serving as Director of the Academic Support Program. She returned to Robson Hall in August of 2022 as an Elder-in-Residence.

Whitecloud was the first Indigenous female law professor at the Faculty of Law, spearheading many courses related to indigenous studies. Today, the Faculty offers its J.D. students a variety of courses on Aboriginal Law and Policy designed to inform and prepare students to understand and work with the legal issues involving Indigenous communities. Professor Whitecloud was and is an inspiration and mentor to many students with a genuine concern for all of them.

Gagné recalled from her own experience that Whitecloud was always available to provide guidance and encouragement during the hard moments of law school. As a mature student returning to pursue law as a second career after working as a legal assistant for the Federal Crown, Gagné had been told by her friend, articling student Christina Cheater (as she then was, now The Honourable Judge Cheater of the Dauphin Provincial Court), told her to see Whitecloud for help. “I absolutely love Wendy,” said Gagné.

To her former students, Whitecloud is a woman who represents courage, leadership and vision. A member of the Dakota Nation, Whitecloud served and still serves on a number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous community service organizations which seek to address issues related to justice, women and children. She has served as a Commissioner on the Aboriginal Justice Implementation Commission (AJIC), established in the fall of 1999. The AJIC’s mandate was to review the report of the Aboriginal Justice Inquiry (1991), to identify priority areas for government action, and make practical, cost-effective and attainable recommendations for improving justice programs and services for First Nations and Métis people in Manitoba.

“The fund was designed to assist Indigenous women to attend law school and it has already accomplished its objective in giving out the first award,” said Whitecloud. “I cannot thank Roxanne enough for her work in getting the fund established and her interest in enhancing the fund.”

The thing that makes the Wendy Whitecloud Bursary in Law stand out from other Faculty of Law Bursaries other than applicants must identify as female or transfeminine and self—declare as a First Nations, Métis or Inuit from Canada, is that they must submit a maximum 250-word statement describing how they meet the criteria for the award.

Photo of Trechelle Bunn, a young woman in a white t-shirt and grey suit jacket with long black hair and a calm, professional look of confidence.

Tréchelle Bunn (1L), inaugural recipient of the Wendy Whitecloud Bursary in Law.

Inaugural recipient Tréchelle Bunn, while only in her first year of law school has already set an impressive precedent. A member of the Birdtail Sioux Dakota Nation and star hockey player for the Bisons while majoring in criminology at the University of Manitoba in her undergrad, Bunn’s first month of law school was spent organizing the second annual Reconciliation Run event in Birtle, Manitoba. The run brought together more than 150 runners on September 30 this year.

“It is a great honour to be awarded the inaugural Wendy Whitecloud Bursary in Law,” said Bunn. “Both as a law student and a fellow Dakota winyan (woman), Wendy is a tremendous inspiration to me. As the first Indigenous female law professor at the Faculty of Law, Wendy is a trailblazer who paved the way for me and other Indigenous women pursuing careers in law.

“I extend my heartfelt gratitude to Roxanne Gagné for establishing this bursary. It is a testament to the strong Indigenous women actively working to break down barriers for the next generation of Indigenous women in law.”

Gagné hopes eventually the Wendy Whitecloud Bursary will be able to assist more than one law student each year.

“What can be done to achieve Reconciliation,” said Gagné, “is repairing relationships. Establishing this bursary is also a path toward Reconciliation, by making it possible for Indigenous women to become lawyers and judges and leaders in our society.”

Contributions to the Wendy Whitecloud Bursary in Law can be made online through the University of Manitoba.

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