June 3, 2021

First in his family to go to university, A.J. Brown is increasingly drawn to criminal law

Indigenous representation in legal profession will help Indigenous youngsters consider law school, Brown says
A.J. Brown
A.J. Brown

Growing up low income, A.J. Brown’s parents knew that education was the key to improving their lot in life. Early on, the family moved to a Winnipeg neighbourhood with better schools so their children could have a better future.

“At the time, I didn’t appreciate what my parents did as much as I should have,” says Brown. “It’s hard being the poorest kid in the neighbourhood, but it was good because I was able to meet plenty of great mentors and teachers that helped me get ahead.”

That support allowed Brown to become the first university graduate in his family (with a BA (Honors) in Law and Society and Communications from UCalgary), as well as the first to go to law school. And while his family always joked that he would end up going to law school, he fought hard against it, starting his university career as a computer science major. He eventually switched to law and society and, combined with his job in the security industry, started to gravitate toward legal studies.

He is not quite sure what area of law he would like to practice, but as his journey through law school progresses, Brown is increasingly drawn to criminal law.

“I know the kind of headache criminal law can be a lot of times, it can be very stressful. That being said, I had professor Lisa Silver in our first-year criminal law class and that developed my interest in the area. Then I had Markham Silver as my instructor for the evidence course, and the longer I’m in law school, the more criminal law appeals to me,” says Brown with a laugh.

A.J. Brown with his children

A.J. Brown hanging out with his children.

Representation important in legal system

For Brown, whose father is of mixed Scottish and Miꞌkmaq from Nova Scotia, and his mother’s family is also mixed with English, Cree from Western Canada, and Ponca from the American Midwest, Indigenous representation is important in law school and the legal profession because he was not exposed to it growing up.

“I didn’t know anyone who was in a professional program growing up. Kids need to see themselves in these situations because it can give them something to aspire to, to encourage kids to think they can do something they wouldn’t necessarily have considered.”

This lack of representation was a reason Brown did not originally disclose his Indigenous heritage when applying to law schools, a result of internalized anger around attitudes about Indigenous people attending university. When he found out about a summer job opportunity as the Indigenous summer student for Student Legal Assistance (SLA), he finally revealed his Indigeneity, which has allowed him to broaden his law school experience.

“Working with SLA, I have been able to see a lot of the legal issues from the client’s side. You hear their stories and truly understand how much help they need. The experience has been really rewarding.”

Events important to gain understanding

Brown acknowledges the importance of National Indigenous History Month simply for the need to give all Canadians a better understanding of the issues and the stories of Indigenous people.

A lot of people just don’t know the history or what is going on right now in our country. People put a lot of stock in what they read on social media or online. If we can educate one or two more people towards what the experience is really like, or what the experience shouldn’t be like, you can get everyone on the same page and have a better world.

In June, Canadians celebrate National Indigenous History Month to honour the history, heritage and diversity of Indigenous Peoples in Canada. It is also an opportunity to recognize the strength of present-day Indigenous communities. 

National Indigenous History Month is a time for learning about, appreciating and acknowledging the contributions First Nations, Inuit and Métis people have made in shaping Canada. 

The Government of Canada recognizes the importance and sacred nature of cultural ceremonies and celebrations that usually occur during this time. While celebrations and events for National Indigenous History Month may be different this year than those in the past, we can still share and learn from stories, traditions and culture in new ways that keep us together and connected.