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Katłįà (Catherine) Lafferty

Dark haired woman standing against a tree.
  • Category: Emerging Alumni Award
  • UVic degree: Law Juris Indigenarum Doctor, 2023
  • Current hometown: Victoria, BC
  • Birthplace: Fort McMurray, AB

About Katłįà

Katłı̨̀ą Lafferty is a northern Dene woman who lives in Lekwungen Speaking Peoples Territory on Coast Salish homelands. She is thankful to be residing on this beautiful island after being dispossessed from her own inherent ancestral land rights in the north through colonialism. Her fourth book, a novel titled Firekeeper, will be published this spring, and she recently signed a book deal to write a climate-change manifesto from a northern Dene perspective. Katłı̨̀ą is a mother, grandmother and articling lawyer with Macushlaw in Vancouver, with a desire to specialize in constitutional charter rights law working towards solidifying justice for Indigenous peoples.

How did your experiences at UVic shape who you are?

Practising law has made me think twice about my choices, even minor choices. I'm always making sure that I'm living and walking the talk of being a positive role model in the community. It’s been four hard years of law school, but I’ve walked through the fire and came out on the other side. Now I'm going to put my legal skills to good use.

What skills or traits are needed to be good at what you do?

I'm a creative person not so much a logical person. It was difficult for me to complete the LSATs because of that. I don't get hung up on perfectionism. I'm applying Indigenous law as much as I can. I'm also bringing my own lived experiences to this field of work. I'm looking outside of the structure of a broken legal system and looking at new innovative ways to practise law.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

The fact that I was able to pay my way through law school. Law school wasn't something I thought I would ever get into. I ran into a lot of roadblocks. I received funding, but it was piece-mealed together. I had to work really hard. I worked a full-time job through law school, and it shows in my grades. I scraped by in law school. I failed quite a bit of classes. I had to get tutors. There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Through COVID, through losing a parent. It was not easy, but I didn't give up… because my children, my family and my community was watching. They were cheering me on. I'm from the Northwest Territories—where I'm the only Indigenous woman out of our First Nation that is practising law.

What’s a valuable piece of advice someone has given you?

A lot of what I was learning [in law school] would make me angry, especially around property law… and the history behind how the law came to be in Canada, how it bulldozed over Indigenous rights. It was hard for me to grapple with, but my friend Clinton Kuzio who used to be a lawyer and is a prof now at UVic said, “You don't have to believe it. You have to learn it.” You can take it in, and then you throw it out afterwards. You don't have to buy into any of it, but you do have to know it, and then you can use it when you're done to your advantage, almost like infiltrating the system, making change from within.

What's a secret talent you possess that might surprise people?

I can juggle. 

What’s the last great thing you've watched or read?

I'm reading We Remember the Coming of the White Man [by Elizabeth Yakeleya, Sarah Simon and other Sahtú and Gwich'in Dene Elders], a compilation of the experiences of Elders in the Northwest Territories, some of whom remember when money first came to the communities.

What's your advice to someone who's about to graduate or uncertain about their future?

Don't give up. There's going to be times where you're going to want to give up. And there's going to be times where you're going to fail. And you're going feel like you don't know anything. Keep going, even through failure, because failure will be your best lesson. I failed two classes in Admin Law that I absolutely despised. I did not want to know Admin Law. But now I love Admin Law because I got to know it inside and out, and I understand it now much better than I ever would have. So sometimes failure will help you to become an expert in something that you wouldn't have known otherwise.

About the Distinguished Alumni Awards

Nominations for the 2024 awards are now closed. Nominations for the 2025 Distinguished Alumni Awards are open through Oct. 18, 2024.