During a recent visit to Pipsell (Jacko Lake), a cultural keystone area in Secwepemc territory near Kamloops, 120 second-year TRU Law students were each asked to bring a rock from the territory in which they primarily live or grew up in, to be placed on a cultural heritage marker.
By placing the rocks, students were participating in an important cultural protocol symbolic of building an understanding of the various places and stories that connect us all. It also established the tone for a day of land-based learning at Pipsell, which is an area currently subject to legal issues relating to both Secwepwemc and Canadian law.
While the Stk’emlupsemc te Secwepemc Nation (SSN) Division of Secwepemc Nation has declared Aboriginal title to the area and initiated title litigation, it is also the location central to the controversial Ajax mine proposal.
The visit is in response to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) calls to action. TRU Law is designing a series of annually designated days of learning, called TRC days, for each cohort of first, second and third year law students.
The TRC calls to action specifically ask law schools to include in their curriculum teachings on Indigenous peoples and the law, the history and legacy of the residential schools, Indigenous law, Aboriginal-Crown relations as well as skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights and anti-racism.
Assistant Professor Nicole Schabus, Aboriginal law expert and visionary behind the initiative, says the visit opened up a different space for learning.
“We first conducted a preparatory session that included exercises in anti-racism and learning about cultural protocols, so the students would understand the space being shared with them. Then, during the visit, the students were welcomed to Pipsell by Secwepemc people who generously shared their knowledge, imparting an understanding of the importance of the place and the land on the students, including through land-based learning,” said Schabus.
“Kukpi7 (Chief) Ron Ignace shared the Trout Children story and how it is connected to Pipsell. The story carries important Secwepemc law and is very complex, containing teachings from three worlds: the land, the water and the air,” she said.
“The S’tkemlups te Secwepemc Assessment process (the SSN’s autonomous environmental assessment of the proposed Ajax mine) was aligned with this, looking at impacts of the proposed project on the land, water and air. SSN panel members shared their knowledge and what they had learned through the assessment process, and students were also taught about specific land use activities including hunting and fishing and collecting foods and medicines,” added Schabus.
Meanwhile, students reflected on how being on the land changed their perspective.
Aanchal Mogla says the site visit empowered her to see and think about the land differently, and ask herself new questions about the proposed resource extraction project.
“The visit to Pipsell allowed us to connect our textbook learnings with the territory in a powerful way that cannot be replicated in a classroom. It broadened our perceptions of very real issues happening all over BC by exposing us to a side of the story we don’t hear much about,” Mogla explained.
Charlotte Munroe is a student who participated and also had a large hand in organizing the day. Munroe spent the summer as Schabus’ research assistant, thanks to institutional funding made available for this project and others that support the university’s response to the TRC calls to action—a pan-institutional project called Coyote Brings Food.
“In June, Professor Schabus and I were present when the SSN declared the area a heritage site. We were inspired to bring a similar experience to our second-year students. I spent the whole summer on preparatory work and I feel really fortunate to have done this since I’m interested in learning about Indigenous issues,” said Munroe, who is from Maiyoo Keyoh, a 17,000-hectare parcel of land situated about 100 kilometers northwest of Prince George, BC.
While the TRC day for the third-year students is still being developed, first-year students visit the former Kamloops Indian Residential School (KIRS) each winter.
“We thank the Secwepemc people for being the teachers and taking a leadership role in these initiatives,” concluded Schabus.