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Legal Trailblazer Honoured at Convocation

Kimberly Murray, Independent Special Interlocutor for Missing Children and Unmarked Graves and Burial Sites associated with Indian residential schools, was honoured at University of Guelph-Humber convocation on June 19.

For her longtime commitment to helping those who are underserved by the legal system gain access to justice, she received a Doctor of Laws (LL.D) from University of Guelph Chancellor Dr. Mary Anne Chambers.

The degree is awarded for significant and extraordinary contributions or service to society, the University or community as a whole; or, to a profession or discipline concerned with service to the community.

During a career that has spanned more than two decades she has ensured the voices of Indigenous communities are heard.

There were challenging roles throughout her career including 15 years working in a legal clinic, learning from, and helping mostly homeless First Nations people living on the streets of Toronto.

More than once, she has been the first to hold a distinguished role.

She is the first to occupy her current role, but also was the first Assistant Deputy Attorney General for the Indigenous Justice Division in the Province of Ontario. She is also the former Executive Director of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada.

The longtime lawyer considers her work to be more of a responsibility to her community.

“It’s part of the DNA inside me, that drives me to want to do the right thing for my children and my future grandchildren and also for community members. Giving back to the community has always been really important to me.” 

She looks at her life’s work and the different roles she has held almost as building upon one another.

Her current role now builds on the work she did at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. While she sees small steps in addressing historical inequities, with each win particularly in the legal system, the work does not end with the court battle. Having people follow the law and enact it is also a part of the process, she said. 

Ms. Murray not only received her degree at convocation with her two daughters looking on, but she also addressed more than 300 graduates including many who completed the Justice Studies program.

In a speech that moved many to tears, she spoke of her path to get to where she is today, filled with twists and turns and unexpected opportunities as well as heartbreak.

But she had this advice for students:

“So you see, there is no timeline. There is no right way or wrong way. No set path to follow. Each is unique to you, as individuals. But there is one thing we all possess, and that is our own instincts,” Ms. Murray said. “ Rely on them. That little voice inside each of you. It knows. It is there guiding you..if you are willing to listen to it. To hear it.”

In a conversation ahead of her address, Ms. Murray imparted advice for those with aspirations to practice law to consider both your heart and mind, to make the right decisions. 

“Never make yourself the centre of the attention or the issue - you are there to serve other people- … you don’t want to make bad law - you want to do the right thing. If your mind and heart are in the right place you will do the right thing.”

Perhaps the most important advice Ms. Murray had for the Class of 2023 came in her closing remarks.

She asked everyone to say Katatenorónhkwa , which is the Mohawk word meaning “I love myself.”

“Remember this word as you continue this journey. Be kind to yourself and forgive yourself.”