This month the spotlight shines on Ardith Walpetko We’dalx Walkem. Ardith co-chaired our groundbreaking Indigenous Legal Orders and the Common Law Conference in 2012, and continues to volunteer as a writer and presenter for conferences on Access to Justice for Children, and Aboriginal Law. She is the Chair of the CLEBC Truth and Reconciliation Task Force, and facilitates our staff training on Indigenous laws issues.
Ardith’s law practice, Cedar and Sage Law Corporation, provides legal and dispute resolution services with respect for Indigenous laws and peace making protocols. Her focus is on finding ways to make space within the Canadian legal system for the recognition of Indigenous laws, including in the areas of child and family wellness, and land and resource use. Ardith has acted at all levels of court, has a Bachelor of Laws and a Master of Laws from UBC, and has taught at the UBC Faculty of Law.
How and why did you get involved with CLEBC?
My first experience was co-chairing the Indigenous Laws Conference, though I had attended many courses in the past.
What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?
Right now I am part of TRC task group which is looking at the TRC calls to action and recommending ways for the CLE to respond to them.
What motivates you to continue volunteering your time and expertise with CLEBC?
I appreciate the opportunity to work with an organization that has a commitment to providing quality information and education to the legal community, and appreciate the wide reach that they have within the legal community.
Tell us more about your work with CLEBC’s TRC Task Force.
I am involved as a co-chair. I am hoping that one of the results will be to shift the way that the legal profession sees the law—to get lawyers to ask questions about Indigenous laws, and how Indigenous Peoples and laws can be fully incorporated and respected. I see this as not a cultural issue, but rather one of professional competence. We cannot practice within Canada, or BC, without a full knowledge and appreciation of the relationship of Indigenous and non-Indigenous societies, and also the role of Indigenous laws within our legal landscape.
What trends do you currently see in your practice of Indigenous law?
There is a move for greater recognition and space—in all areas. Increasingly, we are seeing that Indigenous laws and legal orders are recognized as part of the legal and constitutional fabric of our country and profession.
What are some of the rewards and challenges that you experience in your practice of Indigenous law?
The people I have met and worked with have been a tremendous blessing. I consider the ability to do this work an incredible honour and privilege. The challenges involve having to fight solidly for recognition—and to have a push back at most times—I look forward to seeing what we as a society can do when we decide to work collaboratively with recognition and respect rather than automatically assuming that recognition of Indigenous laws or legal orders is a zero sum game and think that someone has to lose for Indigenous peoples to gain recognition, to a time when we actually see that this can be a mutually enriching experience.
What has your experience been like in the legal profession as an Aboriginal woman?
As an Indigenous woman—within the Nlaka’pamux culture and society that I come from— being a woman is an incredibly powerful identity. There is some part of that seems turned upside down within the legal profession. I think that when Indigenous lawyers get together, we could all share stories about where we were asked to leave the barristers lounge, or told that we were not supposed to be standing in the lawyers section in court—these are relatively common, and very unfortunate experiences. That is a real challenge we face, to actually question and look at how our own profession may be reinforcing and carrying forward stereotypes unconsciously.
Other than law, what are you passionate about?
Art: I am involved in a project called Testify: Indigenous Laws + the Arts which pairs artists and legal thinkers, to creatively collaborate on projects that celebrate Indigenous laws. We have shows scheduled in the future in Victoria, Kamloops, Windsor and Toronto. Also, women’s soccer. As my daughters are old enough to start organized sport, a lot of time is now spent at hockey arenas and soccer pitches.