This month’s first of two contributor spotlights is on gid7ahl-gudsllaay Lalaxaaygans Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson of White Raven Law Corporation. Terri-Lynn is a long-time volunteer for the Continuing Legal Education Society of British Columbia.
How did you first get involved with CLEBC?
In 2003, at a Forestry Law conference and an Aboriginal Law conference; I’ve worked with CLEBC many times since then.
What are you currently working on (or have most recently worked on) with CLEBC?
I am currently a co-chair for the Government-to-Government Agreements and Implementation course. (EDIT: This course has been postponed. TBD)
You specialize in aboriginal-environmental law and have represented the Haida nation at all levels of court. What are the rewards and challenges you experience in your practice?
The greatest rewards are court decisions benefitting not only the Haida Nation, but all Indigenous Peoples, such as the Haida Nation case. It is the leading decision of the Supreme Court of Canada on the Crown’s duty to consult and accommodate Indigenous Nations prior to exploiting Indigenous territories. It helped provide clarity and direction arising from the Delgamuukw decision and the Court of Appeal decisions in Haida Nation and Taku River Tlingit, and created space for significant reconciliation over the lands and waters of Haida Gwaii. I also found working on the Northern Gateway case (Gitxaala Nation v Canada) with other Coastal Indigenous Nations and environmental organizations to be particularly rewarding, not only because we were successful, but because we all brought unique perspectives and arguments forward, which strengthened our collective voices in the courtroom.
As for challenges, the Haida Nation recently intervened at the Supreme Court of Canada to join others presenting Indigenous perspectives on cooperative federalism and legal pluralism; the Court’s decision to not provide reasons was a clear signal that Canada is not ready to address the legal fiction of terra nullius. Similarly, protecting Indigenous interests, rights and laws remains extremely challenging. Although we successfully obtained injunctive relief to protect herring, generally economic impacts to proponents are favoured over the irreparable cultural harm to Indigenous Nations.
You are also a musician, artist, activist, and author. How have these different aspects of your life shaped you as a lawyer?
As an artist and musician, I seek to build bridges of understanding, respectfully blending ancient and contemporary knowledge. My objective in legal practice is the same. In bringing different perspectives together, I always look to propel the conversation about past and future, responsibility, and legacy. My approach has always been all-encompassing and very multi-faceted, taking into consideration many aspects to create something new.
What has your experience been like in the legal profession as an Indigenous woman?
My undergrad was in Computer Science, where gender equality was greatly skewed. Joining the legal profession was the same, with even fewer Indigenous lawyers. There are only so many battles one can take on, and therefore, I’ve chosen to focus my work representing the Haida Nation. I am greatly blessed to represent my nation and to be an advocate for the incredible life-force of Haida Gwaii. As an Indigenous and Haida woman, I can tap into a long matrilineal line of knowledge, love and caretaking, which I believe will help to transform the legal landscape of Haida Gwaii.
Other than law, what are you passionate about?
Generally, I am passionate about fitness, healthy food, gardening, my family, and my new puppy. I have a long-standing passion for sharing the art, dance, culture, and music of Haida Gwaii. I began singing publicly at the age of 6 and never stopped. To me, sharing ceremonies is where magic happens. In performances with my band, I love to get creative with stage clothing and draw upon the rich Indigenous traditions that appreciate the transformative nature of regalia. We also encourage the audience to participate, and this engagement always feels like a celebration. And, finally, my research around female Supernatural Beings of Haida Gwaii has greatly informed my music and is reflected in two books, including a children’s book, and an Oracle Deck. I find great joy in the intersection of my artistic and legal practice, such as in my current Masters and PhD studies at Allard School of Law.