What happens when a Blugold brings curiosity and ambition to college but isn’t sure about their academic major or future career path?
If you’re Ashley Duffy, you take intro classes that interest you, make connections with faculty and embrace the many opportunities UW-Eau Claire offers.
Along the way, you find your passion and, later, your dream job.
“When I transferred to UW-Eau Claire midway through my freshman year, I was undecided,” Duffy says of choosing a major. “I decided to major in American Indian studies after taking an intro class because many of the professors who taught in the program were extremely friendly, encouraging and truly seemed invested in my education and career goals.”
Nearly a decade later, Duffy, who graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2014 with a major in American Indian studies and a minor in anthropology, is the general counsel for the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin.
A career in law wasn’t even on her radar when she first became a Blugold.
However, after completing an internship in the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission’s Intergovernmental Affairs Division, she knew law school was her next step.
“At GLIFWC, I had the opportunity to work with attorneys and to experience the positive impacts you can have on whole communities,” Duffy, who earned her law degree at UW-Madison, says of discovering her passion for law.
As a Blugold, she gained the knowledge and skills she needed to pursue that passion.
On campus, she also found many faculty, staff and fellow Blugolds who inspired her to keep working toward her goals.
“There were many UWEC professors, especially the American Indian studies-affiliated professors, who kept me motivated and encouraged me along my path,” Duffy says. “I especially found a welcoming community through the Office of Multicultural Affairs and the Native American Student Association, now Inter-Tribal Student Council.”
UW-Eau Claire prepared her to think critically, and it sharpened her ability to create multiple solutions for one problem, Duffy says.
The university also provided high-impact experiences — including the GLIFWC internship — that helped her identify a path for putting her law degree to use.
“I had many opportunities in college to give back to communities, which helped strengthen my desire to continue giving back with my legal career,” Duffy says. “I knew going into law school that I wanted to work for a tribe to represent not only tribal interests, but also tribal members.
“I reached out to St. Croix when I had heard they were looking to add to their legal team and then had the opportunity to work for them right out of law school.”
As general counsel for the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, Duffy oversees the legal department for the tribe and is involved in any legal issue the tribe may be involved in. That includes things like reviewing contracts, representing the tribe in court systems, creating and drafting legal documents, and creating laws and revising old codes.
Her work is challenging, interesting and meaningful, Duffy says.
“I’m often meeting with various department heads within the tribe as well as the five elected officials who run the tribal government,” Duffy says. “I’m often giving legal advice throughout the day and frequently attending court either as the prosecuting attorney or as an intervening party on behalf of the tribe.”
Duffy is especially excited about a recent grant St. Croix received from the U.S. Department of Justice to address high rates of violence in Indian Country.
Through the grant, she’s drafting criminal code for domestic violence so that tribal members facing domestic violence have the option to bring criminal cases against their abusers in tribal court.
Once Duffy completes the code, she will act as the prosecuting attorney on any criminal domestic violence cases brought in Tribal Court.
“This is an important step for St. Croix to further protect its people from domestic violence while also strengthening the St. Croix Tribal Court,” Duffy says of the grant and related initiatives.
It’s these kinds of opportunities that make her job so satisfying, Duffy says.
“I am constantly working on different topics so I am constantly discovering new areas of law that I might have otherwise not known I enjoyed,” Duffy says.
Her advice to other Blugolds who might not yet know what path they want to follow?
“Don’t worry too much if you don’t quite know what you want to do,” Duffy says. “I didn’t decide to go to law school until the end of my junior year. Just keep trying new opportunities until you find the right fit for you.”