A look at the upcoming 2023 ILSA Speaker Series

The event will feature notable Indigenous speakers including the first Indigenous person to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada

Lauren Bannon - 15 February 2023

The theme of this year’s Indigenous Law Students’ Association (ILSA) speaker series, “Having the Courage to Face the Storm,” is symbolized by a buffalo facing a snowstorm – imagery that holds deep significance to the student group who planned the series. 

“This theme was inspired by an affirmation card in a deck made by Cree artist Andrea Deleeuw,” says first-year law student and planning committee member Rebekah Mitchell. “This deck is kept in the Wakohtowin Law and Governance Lodge healing room for people to look at during their downtime or prior to smudging. Our Indigenous support manager, Kathleen Makela, found it inspiring, and we came up with the theme from there.”

“When they are facing a storm the buffalo does not retreat or hide as other animals do,” says Tashina Dreaver, first-year law student and the speaker series’ 1L executive speaker co-chair. “Instead the buffalo faces the storm head-on. This captures the resiliency that I believe Indigenous people possess as a collective people. We also think that our speakers this year possess that resilient spirit and take a stand for their communities.”

The lineup of speakers for this year’s series, which is happening daily from March 6 - 10, is noteworthy and is not to be missed. 

Faculty members professor Hadley Friedland and Koren Lightning Earle will kick the week off by guiding participants through a Tully Wheel exercise, identifying responses to injustice and oppression, and ways people respond and work toward positive change. Another Faculty member, assistant professor Tamara (Baldhead) Pearl, will then speak about her research which focuses on “anti-dominance” training, challenging the dominance dynamics of the settler-colonial framework that is imposed on Indigenous Peoples. 

In addition to presentations by members of the Faculty, notable guest speakers will be featured, including co-founder of Assembly of Seven Generations Gabrielle Fayant, who will present on the power of grassroots and youth in leading the way for social change, as well as Duncan’s First Nations Chief Virginia Gladue and two of the Nation’s lawyers Matt General and Jeff Langois, who will discuss ongoing efforts to protect their treaty rights from the cumulative effects of industrial expansion.

We are excited about all of them,” says Mitchell. “Each and every speaker was chosen for a reason, and we are so excited for them to share their knowledge with us.

The week will end with a highly-anticipated talk by ​​the Hon. Madam Justice Michelle O'Bonsawin, Canada’s first Indigenous person to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada. She will speak about her career and her journey to the Supreme Court.

“We were over the moon and beyond elated to receive news that she accepted our invitation to speak,” says Dreaver. “She was the first speaker that accepted our invitation.” 

“One of the best parts about organizing this event was reaching out to the Hon. Madam Justice Michelle O’Bonsawin,” adds Mitchell. “We got to hear her talk at the Indigenous Bar Association in Montreal this year, and were so inspired by her story. We knew we wanted to invite her to this event.”

Coming Together

Planning events like the 2023 ILSA Speaker Series involves a lot of time, effort and energy, notes Mitchell.

“We have weekly meetings where our co-chairs delegate tasks, and as a group, we discuss the intricacies of the event,” she says. “This includes deciding on the theme, speakers, protocol, invitees and lots more.”

Members of ILSA, a student group within the Faculty of Law that is devoted to raising awareness of current Indigenous legal issues within Canada and internationally, came together to carry out these tasks as a strong collective and bring this significant event to fruition. Dreaver mentions that being a part of this collective was a highlight for her.

“The dialogue that took place within planning meetings is a highlight for me,” she says. “Seeing Indigenous law students working together towards a common goal and sharing ideas is something that I enjoyed being a part of.”

Another highlight for Mitchell was garnering interest in the event beyond the Faculty and engaging the community.

“Talking to our local communities’ high schools and other band-operated high schools about the event was really fun,” she says. “I got to talk to a school with a student who is an aspiring lawyer, and he is very excited to tune into the series.”

“I hope that the attendees learn something from the speakers and I hope that the youth take an interest in this area and want to learn more,” adds Dreaver. “I hope that this may lead to an interest in law school and maybe want to pursue an education in law in the future.”

“I also hope attendees will take away bits of Indigenous jurisprudence that will be helpful in their future practice as lawyers, and in their lives as people,” says Mitchell. “Indigenous people are now found in all levels of the justice system, and cultural competency is absolutely necessary in order to work together.”