The story behind the viral images of "Ten Indigenous Lawyers"
As many indigenous initiatives are converging through social networking, a series of photos entitled Ten Indigenous Lawyers have been capturing hearts and inspiring widespread sharing online.
The images of ten women who are indigenous lawyers or law students, were taken in Vancouver on April 14, 2012.
What inspired these women to become lawyers? The stories behind the photo shoot are told here.
The photo shoot was organized by lawyer Ardith (Walpetko We’dalx) Walkem. “It is necessary to celebrate and be bold because we fight so hard to be traditional and to forward our beliefs in what is sometimes a hostile world,” said Walkem to explain why she wanted to gather her friends for this initiative.
“I chose the old BC Court of Appeal courtroom as a location for one of the photographs so that we could assert our presence there. The same for the photos taken in the back alley on the edges of the downtown east side. Our people live sometimes as ghosts on the downtown eastside streets. Some of us have lived through this kind of history too, of poverty, of life in the projects. And we survive as proud strong indominatable indigenous people.”
“The response to the photos was extraordinary,” notes lawyer Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson. Williams-Davidson is putting the stories behind the women in the photos forward in the hopes of “inspiring others to pursue their dreams, which might include becoming lawyers. We all have varied and beautiful stories to share.” A glimpse into some of these stories, reveals tales of overcoming huge obstacles, spectacular achievements, and the desire to preserve and protect culture and others.
Halie Bruce has been practicing law for four years with Walkem and Associates. With her childhood marked by abusive caregivers and terrible loss, Bruce found support when her grandmother helped her move from the downtown east side of Vancouver to her mother's rural home community. "It saved my life," she says. Her sister who stayed behind was a heroin addict by the age of thirteen and died at fifteen.
"Law is my third career," she explains. After working with rights organizations, she decided at age thirty-six to pursue a psychology degree and then a law degree. "I decided I would dedicate part of my practice to Indigenous child protection issues, as well as aboriginal law.
At least once, and usually three or more times a day, I give thanks for my grandmother, the teachings my Namgis family gave me, and I remember and dedicate part of my day to helping change the circumstances of Indigenous women and children who are in a similar circumstances to what my mother and family were in.”
Ardith Walkem has practiced law since 1996 with her firm Walkem & Associates, Chilliwack BC. Walkem was inspired to become a lawyer by an act of kindness. Her parents were estranged and her siblings had been unlawfully taken to the USA by their father. Her mother was unsuccessful in her attempts to get them back until she appealed to a lawyer who agreed to help her even though she did not have the money to pay him. Her siblings were suffering an abusive situation, and with his help, Walkem’s mother eventually got two of her children out of danger and back home.
“I am so grateful and honoured that that man took the time, for an indigenous woman without money, to help her. He made a difference that inspired me to become a lawyer,” she says.
“Subsequently, as a young student at McGill I had various political interests and a desire to help protect rights, and do more. And that act of kindness – that act of humanity which made such a difference, inspired me."
Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson is General Counsel for the Haida Nation and Principal at White Raven Law. Williams-Davidson’s resolve to become a lawyer to protect the land was ignited while travelling through the US and attending sun dance ceremonies. These ceremonies, like the potlatch, were outlawed in Canada in 1895. During these ceremonies she pledged to protect the land and to help elders and people of the land communicate to levels of government.
While Williams-Davidson has represented the Haida Nation since 1996, her earliest passion has been to preserve the Haida songs of her culture. She has helped to save hundreds of Haida songs from being lost forever. She received a ‘Keeper of Traditions’ Aboriginal Music award for her work and multiple awards and nominations for her music.
“Learning the Haida language through Haida songs led to an interest in ceremonies, medicines, and other cultural knowledge. The songs come from the land, and are a reflection of the land and the songs helped to inspire me to become a lawyer to protect the land. All are connected,” says Williams-Davidson.
Williams-Davidson is gathering the stories of the women in the photo shoot and hopes to continue to tell them to a wider audience.
Photo in the Vancouver courtroom:
BACK ROW L to R: Nancy Smith, Melissa Louie, Ardith Walkem, Laura Matthews & Elizabeth Hunt.
FRONT ROW L to R: Terri-Lynn Williams-Davidson, Pamela Shields, Halie Bruce, Rosalie Wilson & Leah George-Wilson.
The photos were taken by Nadya Kwandibens of Red Works Studio http://www.redworks.ca/
For more information please contact Suzanne Little suzannelittlePR@gmail.com