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Newest Nunavut lawyer talks about overcoming obstacles and never giving up

Correction: This article has been updated to more accurately reflect a quote from Lori Idlout. Nunavut News apologizes for the error.

By overcoming obstacles and having family support, Lori Idlout has earned her law degree. She became Nunavut's newest lawyer on Nov. 22, 2019.

The 45-year-old lawyer graduated with a law degree from the University of Ottawa last year.

Vincent Derosier photo
Idlout’s family members gather to support her new accomplishment. At the back from the left stands Josiah Murphy, Robin Idlout, Allan Mullin, Nastania Mullin, Charles Idlout, Samuel Illupalik and Cassiar Mullin. Front, from left are Crystal Mullin, Mylena Idlout-Mullin, Carmen Idlout, Lori Idlout, Mason Mullin, Jo-Anne Idlout and Sam Mullin.

Idlout was born in Lynn Lake, Manitoba, but spent her childhood and adolescence in the North. Her family moved to Resolute Bay and eventually Iglulik became home.

As a child, Idlout had to deal with her father's suicide and separation from her mother.
After her father's death in 1982, the government had considered Idlout's mother "unfit" to raise children. Idlout and her siblings were sent to foster homes in Rankin Inlet, Chesterfield Inlet and Pond Inlet for a while until they returned home.

"I've suffered with alcoholism. I know that I could be a worse alcoholic," said Idlout.

"I had some abusive relationships. I had all these bad things happening to me."

It was her mother's advice that ultimately encouraged her to deal with these hardships and life.

"My mom taught me not ever to give up. She always taught me to keep trying no matter what."

Idlout's mother had also encouraged her to be a lawyer from a very young age. However, instead of pursuing law, Idlout graduated with an undergraduate degree in psychology from Lakehead University.

She went on to work for the government's Department of Health Services; focusing on health and wellness related issues. Eventually she became the executive director at the Embrace Life Council in Iqaluit.

"I always had it in my mind that I would go to law school and become a lawyer someday. It was just never the right time," explained Idlout.

Throughout her life, she showed interest in the work of various lawyers, including Anne Crawford.  Lori also considered Annie Quirke and Mary Wilman as powerful role models.

When Idlout's sister died, she was terribly devastated. She could no longer work at the Embrace Life Council, a non-profit suicide prevention organization.

"I just did not feel that I was the 'right person' and submitted my resignation," explained Idlout.

Around 2012 a combination of factors lead her to conclude that she indeed wanted to study law. She felt a sense of independence and self-confidence to finally pursue her goal. She took law modules at Akitsiraq Law Society that reinforced her desire to become a lawyer.

The support from her family members to pursue her law degree was yet another motivating factor.

"The support that I got from my whole family was just amazing."

Her family understood her need to leave the North in order to study in the south. Her two youngest daughters even moved to Ottawa with her, as she pursued her goals.

Despite all her motivation and support, becoming a lawyer was not an easy ordeal.

While studying law, Idlout had to attend to family issues as well as frustrations related to her studies and exams. As a result, she spent an additional half year completing the three year program.

At times, Idlout said, "it felt like the whole universe was against me."

There was judgment from professors and classmates when Idlout would receive a low grade.

"Having to submit papers, having to write exams and using this form of education as a way to learn laws I think was quite foreign to me," stated Idlout.

Learning law based on British and European laws instead of Nunavut laws was another "huge" challenge for her.

Now as a lawyer in Iqaluit, Idlout is hoping to implement more Inuit legal traditions within the justice system.

She has tailored her robe with embroidered symbols to honour and reflect her heritage as an Inuk. Her goal is to be guided by an Inuit worldview when practicing law. Idlout says she is usually humble about her accomplishments, but becoming a lawyer makes her feel proud.

"Normally, I don't like to be proud. I'm not that kind of person. But for this one instance, I am definitely okay with it because I know how hard I worked for it (the law degree)."

To the young people who are on the fence about studying law, Idlout encourages them to try.

"Because at least if you go for it (law school), you'll learn if you're capable of it or not," said Idlout.

She believes "more people need to realize that we all go through hard times. We all do, but we can't give up. We need to keep trying."