Julian SpearChief-Morris is the
first indigenous student to head Harvard Law School's venerable
Legal Aid Bureau
SpearChief-Morris is the first indigenous president of the
Harvard Legal Aid Bureau, the country's oldest student-run
organization providing free legal services, in its 104 years.
Jon Chase - Harvard Staff Photographer
Growing up in the mostly white city of Lethbridge
in southern Alberta, Canada, Julian SpearChief-Morris often felt
out of place.
With an African-American father from Los Angeles
and a Canadian mother from the Blood reserve, one of the four
indigenous nations that make up the Blackfoot Confederacy, SpearChief-Morris
found it hard to feel completely at home either at the reserve
or in the city where he was raised.
"It was pretty difficult, especially in high
school, because there weren't many people who looked like me,
or came from a background like mine," he recalled. "I often felt
I didn't fit in."
But after graduating from a local college and
coming to Harvard Law School
(HLS), with its diverse student body, SpearChief-Morris felt right
at home. And when he was admitted to the Harvard
Legal Aid Bureau, one of the three honor societies at the
School, he found a family. It's a place that SpearChief-Morris
has made his own.
In his last year at the School, SpearChief-Morris
has left a mark in the storied history of the organization, which
was founded in 1913 to provide legal services to low-income clients
in the Boston area.
He is the first indigenous student to lead the
Like the Harvard
Law Review and the Board
of Student Advisers, the bureau is a highly selective organization
that has featured among its members former first lady Michelle
Obama, J.D. '88, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick '78,
J.D. '82, and former Attorney General Loretta Lynch '81, J.D.
'84, all of whom represented low-income clients before the courts.
A Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court rule allows
student attorneys to work under the supervision of clinical instructors.
As a student attorney with the bureau, SpearChief-Morris has taken
on a home-removal case, child-support disputes, custody matters,
and eviction proceedings.
As the bureau's president, SpearChief-Morris
worked to build bridges with other student organizations on campus.
Caramello '94, J.D.' 99, the bureau's faculty director and
clinical professor of law, praised him.
"Julian is brilliant, organized, and mission-driven,"
Caramello said in an email. "Because of his personal experience,
his relationships with other indigenous leaders and people, and
his own careful study and reflection, he brings an important sensitivity
to the way that historic injustices manifest in modern legal problems.
He also helps us see our clients and our mission in ways that
are more complex and that transcend whatever might be in the headlines
at any particular time."
His leadership is a source of pride for indigenous
students at Harvard, said Leilani Doktor, co-president of the
Law Students Association. SpearChief-Morris was co-president
of the association last year, and during his term made unique
contributions, said Doktor. "He spearheaded initiatives to collaborate
with other student organizations, build community for native students,
and infuse public service into our everyday lives," she said.
For SpearChief-Morris, being at the helm of the
bureau is both a privilege and a responsibility. His stint there,
he said, is a continuation of the work he did as a guidance counselor
in his hometown's school district, where he advised indigenous
students. He finds similarities between populations mired in poverty
"Marginalized individuals have a lot of in common,
regardless of where they are," said SpearChief-Morris. "We serve
low-income individuals in Boston, and the majority are people
of color. In the Blood reserve, which is my family's reserve,
unfortunately there are a lot of poverty issues. I see a lot of
parallels between what happens there and what we see in Boston."
Dealing with indigenous students at home slightly
younger than he was as they endeavored to earn high school diplomas
or equivalency degrees, find jobs, or apply to colleges helped
steer SpearChief-Morris' life in a new direction. It was that
experience that drove him to apply to law school, in hopes of
deepening his understanding of the roots of social inequality.
"The kids I was helping were 16, 17 years old,
and some were 19, 20 years old, and they were working hard to
better themselves, but oftentimes they were stuck," said SpearChief-Morris,
who graduated from the University of Lethbridge with an urban
and regional studies degree in 2013.
"Working with them showed me that there were
deep-seated issues that I didn't know how to address at the time,"
he said, "and it also underlined the fact that I didn't have all
the tools to make the impact I wanted to make."
After more than two years at HLS, SpearChief-Morris
said he has learned how the law can level the playing field for
everyone and the role it plays in strengthening communities.
"The law is one piece of the puzzle to build
strong communities," he said. "My goal was to be better prepared
to change the things that I wanted to change."
After he graduates in May, SpearChief-Morris
plans to work at a law firm in Washington, D.C., as part of the
Native American Practice Group. But his long-term plan is to go
back to southern Alberta to keep working to improve the living
conditions of aboriginal communities.
"I don't want to be a practicing attorney for
the rest of my life," he said, "I may start an organization or
work in the government, but wherever I end up, I plan to work
to strengthen my community."