Canadian Lawyer 4Students

4Students 2018

Life skills and career tips for Canada's lawyers in training

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C A N A D I A N L a w y e r 4STUDENTS AUGUST 2018 65 where I was about a year into doing it and then I just couldn't do it anymore because I couldn't hear any more stories," she says. "While I was doing these claims, I felt every emotion that any- body could possibly feel." Young finished the residential schools claims and went back to his regular practice and Comegan decided to go back to school. Having had a taste, she wanted to be a lawyer. Apart from alleviating the pain of her loss and giving her a spiri- tual connection to her grandmother, Comegan sees Caiden as a miracle in his own right. At 23, she had a watermelon-sized tu- mour attached to her le ovary and fallopian tube. While at cancer care, Comegan was told she would not be able to have children. When Caiden got a little older, Comegan and Caiden's dad, Boniface Mason, wanted to have another child. ey "tried ev- erything," says Daphne, even fertility medicines, but with no luck. "Our son is actually a miracle baby," she says. Comegan is a member of Lac Seul First Nation, an Ojibwe com- munity of three settlements with 860 residents on the southeast shores of Lac Seul, in Northwestern Ontario. She was raised in Winnipeg's north end, amid the addiction, poverty and violence for which it is known. As a young girl, she stayed with her grandparents because of her parents' alcoholism, developing a close relationship with the older generation. When she was 11 years old, her parents got so- ber. Her mom went to school and became a social worker and her dad took psychology at the University of Winnipeg, later working as a trauma counsellor in Indigenous communities. Recently, two heart attacks have prevented him from working, freeing him up to babysit Caiden. Comegan and her family got involved with soball, which she says helped her mom and dad stay clean. Aer graduating at 17, she enrolled at the University of Winni- peg. at is where her own path hit a familiar rough patch. Her own drinking and drug use accelerated, affecting her marks at first and eventually causing her to drop out. She was repeating a battle that she saw her parents fighting when she was a kid. While residential schooling meant they had trauma from which they needed to escape, their alcohol- and drug-fuelled escapism sowed the chaos and instability that produced episodes of violence and sexual abuse that Comegan says she suffered as a kid. As she came of age and began "spiralling," she had flashbacks of her childhood trauma. "My coping mechanism was drugs and alcohol because that's all I had seen when I grew up," Comegan says. Her parents did what they could to help her, but it got to a point where they were just enabling her, she says. As it turned out, it was her son who changed her life. When Comegan met her partner Boniface, both of them were heavily into drinking and drug use. e couple went to Selkirk, Man. and were living in a rooming house when she got pregnant. Once Caiden was on the way, they both got sober, quitting every- thing "cold turkey." ey remained so and are still together. Caiden "is the reason I do everything I do now. He is the reason I got clean and sobered up," says Comegan. "We don't want him to be exposed to what we were exposed to as kids. "We're trying to break that cycle." Aer working with Kenneth Young, Comegan went back to school. Because she flunked out the first time, her reserve, Lac Seul First Nation, would not offer her grants for her tuition until she could prove it would not be a bad investment. Using her parents' residential schools payouts for tuition, Come- gan started over at UW. She earned a 3.5 grade point average her first year and the next year successfully applied for a sponsorship. In Canada, 26 per cent of the incarcerated population is Indige- nous, while they make up only around three per cent of the popula- tion, meaning they're almost nine times more likely to be in prison. ey also account for 25 per cent of homicide victims and are over- represented as victims of crime in general, their rates of violent vic- timization double that of the non-Indigenous population, accord- ing to Canada's Department of Justice. e overincarceration of Indigenous people is central to Come- gan's purpose in pursuing a legal education. "e reason why I want to go to law school is because I don't want our future generations to keep being locked up," she says. Comegan says what is needed is more Indigenous lawyers, more Indigenous legal scholars, court clerks and even court security and initiatives to help mould the justice system into something that looks more Indigenous. "is justice system we have now is not going anywhere any time soon. So, we need to find a way to mould it into something that we can make ours," she says. While Comegan says she wants to see the justice system more reflective of traditional Indigenous practices, she does not think the criminal justice system is the right place for many within it who are suffering from the intergenerational effects linked to the experience of Indigenous people's collision with the British Empire and then Canadian state. She uses the term intergenerational effects to refer to the abuse and addiction that coloured her and her partner's childhood, as the cycle of abuse inaugurated by residential schools and the ad- diction borne from the desire to numb the pain and the shame. Comegan's desire to break the cycle of these intergenerational effects are reflected in her and her partner's sobriety, her desire to spur change in the justice system and in the small details of her day-to-day life, such as her obsessive attention toward the tem- perature of the water in Caiden's baths. When her mom, Rose Marie Lands, attended McIntosh Indian Residential School near Kenora, Ont., she was bathed in scalding hot water. inking this is how to get children clean, Lands sub- jected her daughter to the same painful routine. "I would cry and tell her like the burns, it hurts. It's too hot, and she would just yell at me and be like 'No it's not, you need to get clean,'" Comegan says. She says she is very careful not to pass on the habit to Caiden, even buying a thermometer so the bath water isn't hurting him. With trauma and destructive learned behaviours so central to Indigenous incarceration, Comegan sees folly in seeing this system as anywhere near the appropriate venue to make positive change. "You might as well shoot them. ere's no way that they're going to heal in jail," she says. Profile 4S

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