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Called to the Nunavut Bar
After seven years of hard work Iqaluit's Marie Belleau can practice law in her birthplace

Miranda Scotland
Northern News Services
Published Monday, September 30, 2013

Tears of joy welled in Marie Belleau's eyes last week as she stood in a Nunavut courtroom filled with smiling friends, family members and colleagues.

NNSL photo/graphic

Proud parents Jacques Belleau, left, and Rebecca Veevee, right, stand with their daughter Marie Belleau, who was called to the Nunavut bar during a ceremony Sept. 23 at the Nunavut Justice Centre in Iqaluit. - Miranda Scotland/NNSL photo

Belleau was called to the Nunavut Bar Sept. 23 in a ceremony at the justice centre in Iqaluit.

It took the young Inuk about seven years of late night studying, stress and hard work to get there.

And although some parts were "traumatic" it was worth it to be able to represent Inuit people, said Belleau.

"Everyone was so happy for today, as much as I am," she said after the ceremony.

"I was really, really overwhelmed with the support, overwhelmed with how many people showed up, overwhelmed with just the pride I could feel from everyone."

The Iqaluit resident began her journey to become a lawyer in 2007 at Laval University, where she took the Quebec civil law program.

Later, she attended the University of Ottawa to learn about the common law system.

As part of her program she articled at Nelligan O'Brien Payne for 10 months.

She then went on to take her bar exams.

"It was awful, it was terrible. Worst experience of my life," she said of the exams, adding it took her two tries to pass.

"It taught me perseverance."

Belleau, who spent the first nine years of her life and every summer after living in Iqaluit, said city life took some getting used to.

At times she found herself feeling lonely and homesick.

"The way of life is just so different up here from the south," she said.

"It took me sometimes a full month in the beginning of the school year to just kind of get used to it, snap out of it and get back into the mode of being in the south, in the city and getting back into the school vibe."

What helped her get through was the support of her partner and the connections she made in Laval's Aboriginal Students Association.

Also, when she was missing home or feeling disconnected from her culture she would stream local radio on the Internet so she could hear some Inuktitut and catch up on the news.

Belleau has since returned to Iqaluit and is relieved to be back, she said.

"It was just a huge adjustment to live in a city - the noise, the pollution. It's so cold, you don't know anybody when you're walking around, no one smiles ... It's just a cold, cold place," said Belleau.

"When I finally moved back (to Nunavut) it was like, 'ah' ... I felt almost the adrenaline of seven years just release."

Belleau started working as a lawyer for Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. (NTI) about a month ago.

For her it's a dream job. The organization's mandate, she said, is in line with her motivations to become a lawyer.

Sandra Omik, who works with Belleau at NTI, said she has been a great addition to the team.

"Her presence and exuberance has really uplifted the work we do," said Omik, adding she is proud of her friend for making it through law school and the bar exams.

"I'm very, very happy because both bar exams can be very difficult. They can really ... make you wonder if you can make it, but for Marie she was very dedicated, she persevered and she overcame her challenges."

Meeka Kilabuk, Belleau's great aunt, was also very proud.

Forty years ago, she said, Inuit could only dream of what her niece has accomplished.

"Now it's a reality that our people, Inuit, are becoming lawyers."

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