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  • Writer's pictureBereza Photography

Law Student Confidential: Refreshed to Fight Another Day Armed with Love and Compassion

The eighth chapter in a project witnessing and learning more about fellow law students and their motivation behind moving their life & family all the way to Missoula, Montana to pursue their legal education. Meet Marissa.​


Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

I always loved that quote. It stuck with me from my childhood, and now I know why….

Bozho! Marissa Ndeszhnekas; Neshnabe ndaw. Bodewadmi kwe ndaw; gigo ndodem. Montana Ndoch bya.

Hello! My name is Marissa and I am Indigenous. I am Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. I am fish clan and my home is Montana.

The river and the water in general have always been a very special place to me. It is my connection to our creator and my place amongst my people. I am a woman who belongs to the fish clan. The fish are known as the scholars and thinkers. They were responsible for solving disputes between the crane and the loon. Go figure, here I am in law school solving disputes between what must represent our modern-day crane and loon.

I came to law school later in my life because it took me a long time to decide what my true place in this world is. I’ve lived a few lives at this point. I’m lucky to have made it this far. But I did because I refused to be the woman I knew the world saw me as; I had to change the narrative. I earned my GED while incarcerated at 17 and finally, at 22, I applied to go back to school. I graduated magna cum laude with my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration from Montana State University-Northern. After graduating, I worked for an estate planning law firm and then the State of Montana for a few years, but it just never felt right. I didn’t feel any sense of belonging anywhere. I decided I needed to get educated and fight to escape the world I knew. But something kept telling me what I should be doing is using that education not to escape, but to go back and fight; to return to my people and my family and the struggles I had worked so hard to run away from. We all know the law speaks, usually getting the last word. I decided I needed to do more; to give back and make a difference for my son and his children and their children. That is why I am here. To be an advocate for Indigenous people, for water, for survivors of trauma, the list keeps getting longer. I want to be a voice for those who have been convinced they don’t have one because they are not being heard.

After making the decision I wasn’t in the right place in 2015, I dropped my cushy state job in Helena and moved to Missoula with no prospects…yet. I took a few odd jobs while I began studying for the LSAT. When it was time, I didn’t apply anywhere else because it never even crossed my mind going anywhere else but here. This is home. Luckily, they accepted me! I can’t exactly explain the forces that continue guiding me forward. I feel my ancestors pushing me and I just keep following their voices.

I need to set an example; for my own son, of course, but it’s more than that. I want every member of my family to know their worth. I want every single young relative who comes after me to know that it can be done, to feel empowered to chase their dreams without the limits of the past or what they have seen. I’ll fight every day to make the road easier for those that will come after me.

Today, I am in disbelief that this part of the journey is winding down. I have thrown myself passionately into the law and into movements supported by our generation of Indigenous youth fighting back against the trauma we were born into. My soul is awakened as I watch the progress, the motivation, and the healing right in front of me. I see the fire in my son’s eyes as he watches my journey here and I know that there is hope.

I also see hope when I watch my classmates and I see the same passion. I admire each amazing individual as they focus on their own unique contribution to the legal field. Combined, we are a driving force. The field is changing, and we are all a part of that. I feel so empowered to be part of a group that is so driven and focused.

I am immensely grateful to be here at this time in my life and my little team’s afternoon with Brittney helped to remind me of that. It allowed me to reflect on how I got here and ultimately why I am here. But it also reminded me to just breathe and enjoy these moments. We got the opportunity to just stop and enjoy each other; refreshed to fight another day armed with love and compassion.

Igwien, Bama pi.

(Sincere thanks, see you later on.)



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