Starting law school can be both an exciting and daunting time if you don’t know what to expect. But imagine starting in the middle of a global pandemic? To help our cohort of newest students feel supported during these uncertain times, Allard Law had to act fast to find innovative ways to connect with students.
One successful initiative launched over the summer was the Indigenous Legal Studies (ILS) Academic Leadership Certificate - Summer Intensive. Spearheaded by Lee Schmidt Associate Director for Indigenous Legal Studies and funded by the Law Foundation of BC, the program provided incoming Indigenous law students with an opportunity to build skills and community while also creating space to connect with Allard Law students, faculty and staff. Professor Anne Uteck was the faculty lead who worked with Lee, Professor Nikos Harris and exceptionally dedicated student employees Maira Hassan, a graduate student and Cassandra Sawers, a second year JD student, to develop and roll out this initiative on a very tight timeline.
“The program gave me the opportunity to meet other Indigenous students currently attending, previously attended, or about to attend Allard Law, providing me with not only additional confidence and comfort but also a feeling of connectedness and belonging I may not have otherwise had,” said Sandra Lafontaine, one of the program participants. “The introduction to the content and resources available at Allard I found helpful to me as I begin my journey to law school.”
“What touched me most is that even in the midst of COVID, our community came together and jumped right in to help. This was above and beyond their day to day jobs. The willingness to assist incoming Indigenous students in the school is just tremendous and makes me emotional just thinking about it.
For two weeks in June and five hours a day online, students participated in a range of programming aimed at providing a glimpse into the law school experience and building community with their peers, faculty and the Indigenous legal profession. Lectures, workshops, daily reflections, panels and talking circles were all part of the innovative programming. The topics covered during the two weeks included Aboriginal rights, the law in Canada, tort law, Indigenous legal traditions, property law, Haida law, criminal law, elders teachings, Indigenous settler legal relations, challenges of studying colonial law, addressing discrimination, how to read a case, the court system, developing common law reasoning skills, and sessions with Allard Law Well Being Counsellor Anna Kline, Allard Law Head Librarian George Tsiakos and librarians Tamis Cochrane & Karleen DeLaurier-Lyle from Xwi7xwa Library. Professors Uteck and Harris were joined by Professors Bethany Hastie, Darlene Johnston, Jocelyn Stacey, Gordon Christie, Johnny Mack, Emma Cunliffe, Patricia Barkaskas, Janine Benedet, and Doug Harris along with Judge Alexander Wolf and lawyer and alumna Terri-Lynn Williams Davidson who all generously volunteered their time to share their expertise and insights. Elders Larry Grant and Kat Norris offered elder teachings and alumni Dawn Johnson, Stephen Mussell, Isabel Jackson, Alexandra Scott, Aaron Wilson and Bruce McIvor sat on an engaging panel that offered incoming students valuable insights into thriving at law school.
At the end of each day, Professor Uteck and Lee provided one on one advising and Cassandra provided optional evening mentorship sessions. These sessions continued throughout the remainder of the summer along with skill development tutoring provided by Maira, who was instrumental in ensuring a smooth transition to the online learning model.
“What touched me most is that even in the midst of COVID, our community came together and jumped right in to help. This was above and beyond their day to day jobs. The willingness to assist incoming Indigenous students in the school is just tremendous and makes me emotional just thinking about it,” said Lee who initiated the program due to the cancellation of the University of Saskatchewan’s Summer Program in Property and Customary Law. The popular in-person program is normally attended by many of the incoming Indigenous law students across Canada but was cancelled due to the current pandemic.
Michelle Cameron, one of the program participants, had this to say about her experience:
“According to the BC Law Society, 4.6% of BC’s population is Indigenous, but we comprise 2.7% of the BC bar. The bench is similarly lacking in diversity. It feels daunting to enter the colonial construct of law. The program ensured we met our Indigenous cohort, formed friendships, and saw our potential to succeed at Allard. The professors, tutors, and mentors offered great introductions to basic legal concepts and areas.”
And for Professor Uteck, “this was an incredible opportunity for us to come together to work with an impressive and engaging group of incoming students. It was a joy. We are truly grateful to Lee Schmidt who works tirelessly on behalf of Indigenous Legal Studies. Thank you to each and every one of you for making the Summer Intensive a success.”