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Persistence pays off for budding Mohawk lawyer

Travis Jacobs stands for his official law school graduation photo. (Courtesy Travis Jacobs)

Travis Jacobs is walking a long, sometimes bumpy road. It may have had a couple of twists and turns, but he never deviated from his goal of becoming a lawyer, one of a handful to come from Kahnawake.

“It is not an easy road but can be extremely rewarding if you are willing to invest the time, money and are willing to work hard,” Jacobs told The Eastern Door.

Jacobs, who just turned 37, is wrapping up his last semester in the University of Ottawa’s common law program. He aims to then obtain a civil law degree in order to come back to Kahnawake and serve his beloved community.

The seeds of Jacobs’ dream of becoming a lawyer were planted in his teen years, and are rooted in both his culture and his family.

In fall of 1999, he and his grandfather learned about the Justice of the Peace and Community Law training programs being offered in Akwesasne, and the pair would frequently travel there to study under a Quebec superior court judge.

After finishing his undergraduate degree in political science and public policy in 2004, Jacobs hit a major snag: his application to law school was rejected. However, this eventually led to him crossing paths with a person who would nurture and encourage him to keep reaching for his dream.

While working for the Mohawk Council of Kahnawake, Jacobs met Murray Marshall, a legal counsel. The two bonded and Marshall went on to have a big impact on Jacobs’ life.

“Murray would become a close friend and mentor and was supportive of my goal of going to law school,” said Jacobs.

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Travis Jacobs and his classmates visited the offices of the Supreme Court of Canada in Ottawa. (Courtesy Travis Jacobs)

Jacobs worked as a policy analyst and researcher with the Lands Unit, where he developed and researched policies and guidelines for lands in Kahnawake, to help him understand the community better.

Then, most recently, as Compliance Officer with the Kahnawake Gaming Commission, he worked closely with license and permit holders to ensure compliance with KGC regulations.

Part of his job was regular poker room inspections and helping to administer the self-exclusion program.

In winter of 2014, Jacobs’ persistence and hard work paid off: he was accepted at the University of Ottawa. Course work has been challenging, as has been the distance from his family, but he looks forward to tackling big, systemic issues in the legal system.

“I wanted a challenging and rewarding career and knew that law school would open doors for me. Canadian law does not afford the same level of recognition to Indigenous legal traditions,” said Jacobs, noting that is something he wants to work on.

He encourages other young Kahnawa’kehró:non to go to law school, despite the hardships that can come with it. Though good grades are important, he says schools want students who are actively involved in making their world a better place.

“Law schools also like well-rounded candidates,” Jacobs said. “While your undergrad grades and LSAT scores are important, so too is your involvement in the community, and volunteer work and extra-curricular activities.

“The transition from a job and weekly pay check to life of a student involving student loans, tuition and debt has been difficult. However, student life is only temporary and my return on investment will produce gains and benefits for years to come,” he said.

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