Image: Carolyn at Mystic Beach


A lot of connections were created to bring me, a Secwepemc from Esk’etemc reserve, to work for ILRU. It has been a humbling journey. Before I was even accepted to the JD/JID law program at UVic Law I began to hear about ILRU through the Secwepemc Gatherings taking place on Secwepemc territory. I was still an undergrad when I was first formally introduced to Simon, Jessica, and Rebecca who were so kind and amazing to talk to. I was not even accepted into any law school at that point when I met Veronica, a student working for ILRU. She encouraged me that I could make it into law school and gave me her contact information for if I ever needed help with the application process. Briefly working for SNTC assisting with event coordinating, I helped with a law retreat where ILRU was doing community engagement and facilitating a case briefing session with Secwepemc elders. The process looked so complex and I felt so intimidated around the ILRU law students since I wanted to go to law school and be one of them, but I was motivated to get into law school and work for ILRU.

I was first accepted into UBC law school before I got the call from Val Napoleon informing me I got accepted into the JD/JID program at the University of Victoria. In spite of some shyness, I also agreed to be in the media for UVic Law doing a photo session on my reserve Esk’etemc, BC. I loved the idea of Secwepemc territory being posted all over place; especially at YVR airport. My dad was proud of me, sharing his selfie of my picture in the background at YVR airport. 

Image: Dave Belleau in front of Carolyn’s photo at YVR airport
Image: Carolyn at the Winter Gathering in Splatsin in January
I have since completed two years of the JID program. I have had some great experiences along the way. I was fortunate to go to Splatsin for the Winter Secwepemc Gathering in January 2020. At Splatsin we attended workshops, did a panel session of explaining the progress of the Citizenship project, tying in the themes of Relatives and Being a Secwepemc person with the Secwepemc Law of Belonging. Being with the ILRU team I learned how they navigated large crowds and group sessions. I noticed having a warm presence was important along with enthusiasm for the work and being humble. When we broke out into group sessions to work with the concepts and why creating Indigenous laws for one’s community, my group created some good concepts and had wonderful enthusiasm. Community engagement was through games, one-on-one conversations with Secwepemc people, and participating in the workshops. I was grateful to be able to work with ILRU and be with Secwepemc people working on Secwepemc Law. Though the hours were long and the work was intense, I really enjoyed working alongside Ruth, Brooke, Rebecca, and Jessica.
COVID times came our way and threw so much uncertainty and fear. Before all this, I applied for the ILRU research position and was not certain if they would still allow us to work for them. Things were up in the air and was thrilled ILRU would continue to work with students, even if things had to be done in a remote way for everyone’s safety. It was the Zoom life, where we would learn Zoom fatigue was a thing. We got to be a part of ILRU projects already up and running and were individually assigned to different projects. We would all be a part of Law 388: Indigenous Methodologies class at UVic Law. We got to work along with students taking the course helping with case briefing and group sessions. We also did a Zoom session with Dave Belleau discussing Coyote stories and his own reflection as a residential school survivor. We had the ILRU student researchers along with ILRU staff be a part of the session, which was recorded for the class. I learned coordinating community engagement came naturally for me but would struggle with technology a little. This summer working for ILRU would be different in so many ways: we would not be in different communities doing the work on the ground, but worked remotely instead. We as students still got to meet community online through Zoom, but we weren’t able to meet the people involved with the projects directly. It could have made the work almost feel isolating if it wasn’t for our resolution to be accessible and support one another as a team. I really loved working with everyone on the ILRU team. I felt genuine warmth and couldn’t feel better about my choice to work for ILRU for the summer.
Image: Tania, Carolyn and Brooke
Image: Carolyn’s aspirations
I think it was important ILRU set a date as my “last day” before I go back for my 3L year in the JID program. I would have worked all the way until my first day of class. There was a day when Jessica had to tell me to stop working and get some rest. I am still in denial that summer is almost over, along with the weekly group emails sharing our intentions with one another. The ILRU team is a genuine family who work hard and do really solid work with Indigenous communities. They shared with me so many useful tools and knowledge, sharpening my skills for research and community engagement. I enjoyed my time with ILRU this summer but know this is not the end. I added ILRU in my masterplan because they are doing remarkable work and I believe they are shaping Indigenous law, which I will be doing as well in the future.