On September 26, 2015, I attended the 20th Anniversary feast of the University of Victoria Faculty of Law’s Aboriginal Awareness Camp or “AbCamp” program. Also attending the event were UVic Law Dean, Jeremy Webber, UVic faculty, alumni, elders, program facilitators, Esquimalt community members and guests. We were treated to a delicious meal catered by the Salish Slenslani Women’s Fastball Team, and words of recognition, celebratory singing and drumming were shared in the Esquimalt Nation Longhouse.
The 20th Anniversary feast was integrated into this year’s AbCamp program. AbCamp is an annual program in which one or more Vancouver Island First Nations opens its doors to a group of law students who live in and learn from their community for a few days. This year, more than 50 students (over half of the incoming class) were welcomed into the communities of the Tsawout, Tsartlip and Esquimalt First Nations. They were introduced to traditional activities such as cedar weaving, smoking fish, pit cooking, canoeing, singing, drumming and playing Lahal. They were also introduced to the teachings of the nations’ elders, including indigenous legal traditions in these communities. Many students spoke of the emotional impact of participating in a sweat lodge, and the lessons they learned from the elders that they would carry with them into the future.
Students were guided through the program by the Cultural Liaison in the faculty of Law, Karla Point, facilitators, Scott Sam (Tsartlip) and Toby Joseph (Tsawout) and elders, Mae Sam and Skip Sam (Tsartlip), Victor Underwood (Tsawout), and Sandy Morris (Tsartlip), as well as the Chief of Esquimalt Nation, Andy Thomas and his wife, Mary Ann Thomas. Bob Nye, an elder from Songhees Nation, also attended the 20th Anniversary feast and acted as witness to the proceedings along with Dean Jeremy Webber, Drew Mildon and Ben Thomas.
As a UVic alum, I attended the program myself. It is an introduction for new UVic law students to the cultures of the peoples in whose traditional territories they will be living and studying colonial law. But more than that, it is an eye opening and unsettling opportunity to learn about the modern reality of Vancouver Island First Nations. It is, perhaps most importantly, the barest of introductions to the legal traditions of the Island’s indigenous peoples.
It is a rare occasion for indigenous and non-indigenous peoples to come together in an atmosphere of respect and willingness to learn. The elders who addressed the students and guests on Saturday night spoke of the need to be able to look each other in the eye, talk to each other and respect one another. Only then, they said, can we begin to move towards healing the rifts between our communities. In this way UVic Law’s AbCamp represents one small, but important, step in the long journey of reconciliation.
JFK Law Corporation proudly supports the AbCamp program and would like to add its own expression of gratitude to the many communities that have opened their doors to UVic Law students over the past 20 years. More information on the program is available here: https://uvicabcamp.wordpress.com/ and here: http://www.uvic.ca/law/home/news/current/AbCamp20thAnniversary.php.