Image: Brendan Noyes


I knew that while the summer would no doubt be a strange one, the ILRU would continue to look after its’ staff and nurture relationships. That counts to me—it counts big because of the nature of our work. We talk about revitalizing and rebuilding Indigenous laws and only so much of that can happen in an office space or a classroom; indeed, I would dare to posit that at least in some small ways I have come to appreciate what it means to live the laws. The laws and legal traditions that I have had the distinct pleasure of working with, though varied and nuanced as any, in my opinion share a key concept: the value of the person sitting across from you. Law societies, law firms, and certainly recruiters will tell you that the legal profession, the Canadian legal profession, has come a long way in addressing the human needs of the human beings that keep the show running. It’s one thing to say that, it’s another to live it. ILRU, in my experience, lives that.

Before I get into the nitty gritty of my experience, I would like to take a moment to comment on distance work. For us, it was the only option we had this summer like so many other workers. It also needs to be said that we have a certain privilege in doing that and I would be remiss if I didn’t thank the amazing humans who keep working, live and in person, throughout this pandemic. That said, working at a distance is WEIRD AS HECK! No good morning chats, no coffee breaks together, no yelling across the office “Hey Carolyn! What do you think of this?”. Instead it’s all zoom calls, emails, and the like. In some respects, it makes the work easier (I spent many days working in my pajamas, hammering out a legal framework or two from the comfort of my bed), but the work is also harder. For example, when interviewing an Elder, how do I properly respect their time and avoid interrupting them when I can’t read their body language because I’m staring at their face through a screen? It challenges us to take more time. Listen harder. Not jump to speak.

Brendan, along with community coordinators DeAnne Lythall and Wyatt Adair, put together this FAQ for the GroundWork: Revitalizing Indigenous Land Laws in Treaty 8 Territory project
A big part of my learning this summer at ILRU was about pace. I, like I imagine so many other students, am used to first-draft-sending, getting the grade, and forgetting the assignment. This work requires patient, iterative, repetition. How do you express the law from any legal tradition if you only do so once, and from a single voice? You cannot. Cue collaboration! The other aspect to this re-iterative process is that you are not alone in the work. Super-dupers, other students, other researchers at the ILRU are always happy to take the time and look over your work and give you feedback.

Another lesson from this summer is the value in different kinds of work. So many times in interviews with Elders and knowledge keepers from diverse backgrounds I heard, “every single person has value and something to offer.” I like that sentiment. That idea of value though goes beyond each person and into each thing a person does. At points this summer I was tearing my hair out staring at the blinking, almost mocking, cursor in a blank word doc. At many points this summer I was listening. At many points I was typing up a storm. At many points I was holding open space for a colleague to share something from their lives. These all have value! These all are part of the work. It is the human element of the work.

The work we do at the ILRU is taxing. It challenges you intellectually, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. There are days when all you want to do is sing and walk around with the joyful energy you’re riding after spending 3 hours on a call with a kick-ass knowledge keeper and your friends. There are days when you want to smash your laptop and swim in the lake. It challenges you. To anyone thinking about engaging in this work, or even to those in the thick of it and loving all that it offers your soul, I say go for it!