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Embracing identity and pursuing justice

Receiving the Carolyn E. & Robert J. McCormick Indigenous Entrance Scholar award allowed Shirina Evans to finally pursue her long-held dream of getting a law degree.

Shirina Evans smiling at the camera standing in front of a green field

First-year Indigenous law student Shirina Evans is warm, bubbly and constantly laughing as she recounts the life events that kindled her 10-year-long pursuit of becoming a lawyer. At times her lighthearted demeanour seems at odds with the stories she shares openly. Stories of overcoming racism, domestic violence, and being cut off from her Indigenous identity as a Sixties Scoop survivor. 

A single mother of two, originally from Lac la Ronge, Saskatchewan, Shirina grew up knowing she was adopted but knew little else about her heritage. In her late teens, a social work report revealed her mother’s identity and Shirina’s birth name. The discovery that she is a Woodland Cree (nêhiyaw-iskwêw) woman took Shirina on a new journey learning about the culture and language she had longed to explore.

“I spent a lot of my time wondering where I came from. When I found my mom I closed that door, but here’s this other door. I’ve always been drawn to my Indigenous heritage, but I still struggle. I have my language certificate but I’m nowhere near where I want to be.”  - Shirina Evans

Shirina’s first application to a law school in 2016 was unsuccessful. “I wanted to be a Crown [prosecutor] but Creator said no,” she explains. “[after that] I went into corrections because I was leaving an abusive relationship and I needed a career that could support my family.” Her five years in corrections increased her desire to work in law. “Even going through the training, I knew it wasn’t for me,” she says, “but there was a large divine reason why I had to see what was going on in corrections. That’s what led me to want to pursue law school again.” Being inside what she sees as a broken system that disproportionately incarcerates Indigenous people—and witnessing and experiencing racism and injustices firsthand—ignited her passion to help reform the Canadian legal system.

Indigenous heritage and dream career eventually intersect.

When Shirina was accepted into UVic’s joint degree program in Canadian common law and Indigenous legal orders ("JD/JID"), her dream of becoming a lawyer and her search for her Indigenous heritage intersected. Last year, she had the opportunity to learn about her Cree heritage through constitutional and criminal law courses. “I feel like a lot of this Cree knowledge is something I can take back with me and promote or try to incorporate in certain institutions,” she says.  In the meantime, Shirina enjoys connecting with other Indigenous students, faculty and staff and community members across campus and recently started as the Native Student Union Coordinator at the SUB.

At the onset of her program, Shirina received the Carolyn E. & Robert J. McCormick Indigenous Entrance Scholar award, which is matched by the Indspire Foundation. This support has been crucial for her to maintain a connection with her children, easing the burdens of travel and the high costs associated with studying away from home. "I just don't know how I would have done this. I'm still struggling, but I certainly wouldn't have made it this far," she says.

“Thank you, Têniki, we don’t all come from a place or position in society where we can move and do things so easily. I had so many barriers keeping me from being able to come here and stay here. For me and my family of three, I’m super grateful, I can’t imagine how I would’ve survived without it.”- Shirina Evans on the impact of donor support.

The McCormick Foundation was established by Mr. Robert and Mrs. Carolyn McCormick during their lifetime, with the intention that it would be the vehicle to continue their philanthropy after their passing (in 2015 and 2019, respectively). “Since their creation in 2013, these awards have helped 25 Indigenous law students. During their lifetime, Mr. and Mrs. McCormick were passionate about advancing reconciliation, and we are grateful to continue honouring their legacy,” says Sara and Michael Morrisey from the McCormick Foundation. Recently, the Faculty of Law celebrated the creation of 24 scholarships for Indigenous law students, totalling more than $1.4m in student support committed over the next five years.

To read more about the impact of donor generosity, visit the 2023 UVic Annual Report to Donors.

Learn more about giving to UVic.